Greg Lindsay's NY Times article Engineering Serendipity is a fascinating look at how companies are trying to increase the amount of serendipity that happens at their firms.
It includes a good description of serendipity:
The term, coined by the British aristocrat Horace Walpole in a 1754 letter, long referred to a fortunate accidental discovery. Today serendipity is regarded as close kin to creativity — the mysterious means by which new ideas enter the world.
"Accelerated serendipity" is a term you hear often in the coworking community. They believe coworking increases the generation of business ideas and productivity by bringing together diverse groups of smart people.
But having said that, serendipity is not easy to measure and because of this there's very little proof you can engineer or accelerate it.
Lindsay's article points out the promising areas of serendipity research, with social network analysis likely the best way to attack this problem.
Last year we took this approach to measure the impact of coworking on a member's weak tie network.
Weak ties – links among people who are not closely associated - have been shown to play a powerful role in spreading ideas, finding jobs and helping people join together for action.
We found that joining a coworking facility increased the number of weak ties and makes it easier to tap weak tie networks.
While we think this is a powerful finding that shows coworking facilities add value to their members, larger and better weak ties does not guarantee increased serendipity. Instead, it's a precursor to increased serendipity.
But despite this limitation we believe stonger weak tie networks lead to more serendipity. And, as the article points out, there is broad agreement this is true. How this exactly happens is still a bit of mystery, but every day we come closer to figuring it out.