Managed Serendipity: Facilitating Connections That Count

Gabe Adams
September 3, 2020
Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia

Think about the last time you met someone who you felt was really worth knowing. Perhaps you thought of someone who could help you advance in your career, someone who gave you insight, skills, training, or insider knowledge, or even someone who became a friend. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our connections were like this? 

Sometimes connections are made when people are intentionally introduced to one another, but other times they occur organically or even by chance. Although intentional introductions are probably more likely to be fruitful (after all, there is probably a reason two people were introduced) - organic connections feel spontaneous - even serendipitous - which makes them enjoyable.

Before the pandemic, serendipitous connections could have occurred at any time, in any place – from small talk at social gatherings to potlucks and barbecues. Even at networking events and meet-ups where the intention was to meet new people, it was still possible to feel that a connection was spontaneous and fortunate. 

Now, absent those channels for social interaction, introductions to and interactions with new people are limited to those that are intentionally scheduled. Indeed, when working from home and trying to achieve some semblance of work-life balance, time is precious and there is little time for small talk.

Now more than ever, we have to be thoughtful about how much time we invest in meeting new people, and we are often forced to limit ourselves to only those connections that we believe will be fruitful. In some ways, networking has become much more efficient since introductions are so curated, but networks have also stopped expanding as we withdraw from in-person interactions.

If you manage a network or fellowship community – some questions to be asking:

  • How can we reintroduce networking in an online environment without making it feel like a chore? 
  • How can we preserve the sense of serendipitous social connection when interactions must necessarily be scheduled? 

These are a few of the topics we covered with the IFS community in a webinar co-hosted with IREX last month. Those in attendance had some experience-based suggestions, including:

  • Starting and ending virtual gatherings with a piece of live music or art appreciation
  • Running an ice breaker that encourages early vulnerability to knit the group together
  • Being mindful of introverts and what energizes them
  • Creating pods within a larger group so individuals form a few strong connections
  • Empowering everyone with the information they need to network proactively

To dive in a little deeper, watch the recording:

Names & Faces at the 2020 Impact Fellowship Summit

Next month, we will be hosting a longer session on managed serendipity as part of the Impact Fellow Summit. If you manage or are part of an impact fellowship: register online for this virtual edition of the event - taking place October 27-29 - and we'll see you there.