Lunch Roulette

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Sex and Serendipity

Earlier this week, on January 28th to be precise, a friend sent me a note excitedly letting me know that on that day, in 1754, Horace Walpole used the word ‘serendipity’ for, apparently, the first time in the history of the English language.

Accompanying this article was the following little nugget attributed to Julius Comroe:

“Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.”


Maybe my mind’s in the gutter, but that seemed like a saucy outcome that Dr. Comroe was alluding to: Our needle searcher much to their surprise, instead of the needle they’d been lusting after, had found the farmer’s daughter instead. Sexual hilarity ensues …

Or, maybe, Dr. Comroe actually meant something like this:

“Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and finding a sewing kit”

I know boooring … perhaps a little more accurately connected to the

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Why the Org. Chart May Not Cut it Anymore

Editors Note: This is our first guest post, and I’m thrilled to welcome Megha Pandit Rao and Alexandra Hughes. As so much of what we’ve spoken about in some of our earlier posts here relates to Employee Engagement, we put our heads together and had a think about some of the failings of the org. chart.

Why the Org Chart May Not Cut it Anymore
January 14, 2015

Structure has a profound effect on employee behaviors, attitudes, and engagement, all of which are inextricably linked to customer satisfaction. So with more than 70 percent of American workers not engaged or actively disengaged in their work, it’s a wonder more companies aren’t examining their structure and asking, “Is this really working”?

For many, the answer is, it isn’t.

The traditional organizational structure of most for-profit companies – the one that involves a litany of org charts – is increasingly outdated. Companies

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House Hunters, Curiosity, … and the Future of Work?

Fine. I admit it. I really like the HGTV ‘reality show’ House Hunters. Whatever. Judge me all you will.

I. Don’t. Care.

Let’s be honest, you probably don’t care either, except it’s the unfortunate backdrop to this week’s post.

One of the reasons something like Lunch Roulette appeals to me is because I’m curious. I get to meet random people, chat with them and, inevitably something of mutual interest will come up. I’ve discovered this is helped along, immeasurably, by actively listening, and then thinking about how what the person has told me ‘sits’ with the things I am interested in and looking to more fully explore.

I reckon being curious is a good part of being engaged just generally but that’s quite a bold conjecture that I haven’t formally explored. Hey ho, I am getting off topic.

So, I hear you squeak, how do these two themes of reality place-based television and curiosity

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Employee Engagement: Black Holes and Time Warps

Just to come clean, I actually don’t have anything to say about time warps. So, if you’re one of my three readers who happened to want to learn about the theoretical conditions necessary for such a thing - you are out of luck. I’d recommend the following as it’s a good read on exactly that topic.

So, New Year, and a commitment to you, dear reader, for more frequent posts. That’s right - one a week. You. Are. Welcome.

So, what is the subject of this week’s post I hear you sniffle?

It’ll start with a rant.

I am extremely lucky in that I get to attend, and oftentimes speak, at a host of meetings in any given year. Some of them are technical in nature, some are not. For those meetings that are not, there are always a couple of presentations, panels, or even whole sessions devoted to ‘corporate culture’. What usually sets me off, and that typically results in a snarky tweet, is when

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Snakes on a plane? That’s so 2006

Future Shock, my second favourite book about ‘the future’, was penned by Alvin Toffler It remains a good read, with some pretty prescient observations about, well, the future. As I re-read it a few weeks ago, I was reminded that I should write up a post based on his description of an aborted experiment by the now defunct British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

As one of the three regular readers of this blog, you may recall we spend a good chunk of time thinking about how we can engineer the randomness of human interaction in the hope that we can enrich for serendipitous outcomes. One of the earliest examples I’ve found of this (outside of the problème des ménages) was in Mr. Toffler’s book, where he shared BOAC’s latest (at the time) ‘innovation’ – “The Beautiful Singles of London”. This involved pairing unmarried American male BOAC passengers with ‘scientifically chosen’ blind

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Public + Private = Opportunity

Earlier this summer, during an early morning excursion to the Tate Modern in London, I happened upon Cafe 101 - a seemingly hidden treat in the basement of The Salvation Army International headquarters.

Why’s that important for this forum I hear you tootle?

If you think about last weeks’ post - something about physics, space, randomness, and opportunity if I remember correctly - I spent a bunch of time talking about the role of physical space in engineering randomness to enrich for serendipitous outcomes. Cafe 101 represents a physical space ‘open’ to those both within and without The Salvation Army International organization; a place ripe with potential to create shared value, between the organization and ‘outsiders’.

I don’t know for sure, but got the vibe that this is a cafeteria for the organization - a place where Salvation Army colleagues could meet and eat, both in the context

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Randomness, Serendipity, Bounded rationality … and Light Cones

Kudos to Greg Lindsay for continuing to Work Out Loud as he explores the role of place, network, and data in engineering the conditions for enriching for serendipitous outcomes. He has a wonderful recent piece on Medium, where he continues to refine his thesis.

As the one of the three regular readers of this blog, you’ll know that this is a topic we love to think about too, so here are a couple of reflections/observations on this next iteration of the networked exploration of this topic.

As I have previously described I think serendipity is a ‘second order’ effect. The planned combination of elements of a thoughtful physical space along with mobile, network, and sensor data can at best be thought of as engineering randomness, in the hope of enriching for serendipitous outcomes.

I risk sounding like a pedant – quibbling about the difference between randomness and serendipity, and using

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Serendipity as engineered randomness

Last year Greg Lindsay wrote a wonderful piece for the New York Times that described how a number of organizations were seeking to ‘engineer serendipity’ - either through modifying their physical workspaces, or by instituting processes that enrich for fortuitous encounters.

Sound familiar? Of course it does! Conceptually this is one of the reasons for Lunch Roulette (in all it’s implementations).

Where am I going with this I hear you grunt? All of the processes/tweaks described are great - and will most certainly enrich the number of ‘random’ interactions, and by extension serendipitous ones - but it’s important to note that the sought after serendipity is a second order effect.

What do I mean by this?

One of my favourite definitions of serendipity is the following: “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”. Serendipity is a second order effect

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Nous Avons un Problème

A couple of weeks ago Fred Benenson and the folks at Kickstarter shared their version of Lunch Roulette. They have put it into the wild, it’s written in Ruby, and has some really neat features.

What I also really appreciated about the description of their approach was the deep dive into the ‘kind of problem’ that this is which, shame on me, I had not previously bothered to do.

Turns out, this is a problem in mathematics called the ‘maximally diverse grouping problem’ (MDGP) which consists of grouping a set of M elements into G mutually disjoint groups in such a way that the diversity among the elements in each group is maximized. This problem is NP-hard, but there are a number of interesting heuristics that can be applied. You can read more about this all here.

I started following Mr. Benenson on Twitter and saw this reflection on a conversation with his Father:

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Who wants to switch seats?

The short answer is – no one.

I was honored to have been invited to lead a workshop at the Network and Affinity Leadership Congress in NYC in June. The slides from this event can be found here:

Social: A Network Leader’s Perfect Diversity Platform from David Thompson

The event was a ton of fun, and we had participants from a wide array of organizations. My material was well received and people appreciated my attention to measurement and outcomes; do let [me]( know if you’d like to learn more.

In planning the workshop, and as an entry to the topic of individual barriers to change, I opened with an activity: “Who wants to switch seats?” I had an informed hunch that people would sit next to their colleagues, and I didn’t want that to be the case, I wanted them ready to think differently.

Take a moment and have a think about that behaviour - and know that I

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