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Collaborative Collisions and Coffee Shops

Imagine two infinitely small hydrogen atoms. On Earth, they rarely collide, creating a safe environment for life. But on the sun, billions to trillions of these atoms are clustered with very little room to move. The result? High-speed collisions between atoms that have nowhere else to go produce massive amounts of energy.

The Coffee Shop Phenomenon

On Earth, we have a similar phenomenon — coffee shops that act like virtual “suns” housing many people or “hydrogen atoms” in a confined space, allowing them to interact and collide. There is evidence that creativity happens in coffee shops. The noise level, the close proximity of creative minds, and the mild stimulation of caffeine blend in just the right combination to encourage creativity. Even better, you are surrounded by other creatively stimulated individuals who can encourage, inspire and build on your own creativity.

Creating Your Own Coffee Shop Environment

Tight spaces (physical or not) with many creative minds inevitably lead to collaborative collisions resulting in innovation. How do you create an environment like the coffee shop where the possibility of collaborative collisions are more likely to happen? What are the best ways to optimize and capitalize on collaborative collisions within an organization?

Here are a few ways that innovative companies create the ideal environment for great ideas to flourish:

Create the Right Space

You can have a physical environment where people are more likely to interact and “collide” with each other. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos prefers “collisions over convenience.” One example is when he blocked three out of the four exits in one of the rooms in his building thereby increasing the likelihood that employees would interact when they left out of the only exit in the room. Another example is when he blocked the skywalk between the parking lot and the offices, forcing employees to navigate through the neighbourhood and interact with others – to make it to the parking lot.

The proximity principle suggests that proximity increases communication and liking. It seems obvious, but simply ensuring that people are in offices near each other or that they have a common, shared space in which to gather is critical.

While it may be difficult to accomplish physically creating a coffee shop environment for your employees or it may not be practical or possible to create a shared physical space for employees, there are other ways to keep people connected and collaborating.

Connect and Communicate

Using a software platform where people can come together to “collide” will complement physical interactions. Aside from being easier and more convenient (and more affordable), this option also leaves fewer things to chance. Just think, while creativity may happen in the coffee house some times, how many times do you just go there for the coffee? By having a program in place that brings people together and is also continuously prompting creativity, you will have a much great chance of innovative results from collisions.

With an idea management program, everyone can see everyone else’s ideas, creating a dense virtual coffee shop for employees to collide and collaborate on each other’s ideas. Think of it as the virtual coffee shop for organizations.

To summarize, if you’re looking to create an environment for employees to collide and collaborate, there are two main options – physically encouraging people to come together and collaborate or creating a virtual space for them to interact with each other. Both have their own benefits but a great way to start optimizing collaborative collisions without majoring restructuring your work environment is to create your own virtual space for the community to contribute and collaborate. Regardless of which path you choose to take, the key is not to waste creativity from your community and encourage them to create positive conversations that will drive innovation for your organization.

Harness the power of employee ideas.