Ways We Innovate: Randomized Lunching.

Ever wonder why your rideshare driver is way more chatty than your typical cab driver? They may be doing this less for the money and more for the social interaction.

I was picked up the other day by an electrical engineer who was ridesharing during his commute times to a) talk to new people, b) earn money to build a personal airplane and help send his college-age daughters through school, and c) kill time until the commute level traffic had a chance to calm down. During our conversation, he said a few interesting things, which turned into more than three blog topics and possible new product ideas.

I’ve personally experienced and have heard from many others and their experiences and read studies that indicate that many drivers are not really in it for the money. The money is a side benefit – many rideshare drivers do it for social interaction. To have the opportunity to talk to others.

Putting aside the possible cultural issues that drive people to become rideshare drivers to experience social interaction (unlike traditional social interaction models like connecting through friends, family, social and religious institutions, or even via Meetup), there are some interesting aspects here. If you think about it, the whole concept of being “cooped up” in a small space with someone you don’t know for a specific semi-extended period may have benefits.

In Steve Jobs’s biography, he describes explicitly designing the Pixar offices so that the workers there would be more likely to bump into each other randomly daily. He did this by strategically placing the restrooms and kitchens in a centralized location so that random individuals would be more likely to bump into each other and make connections.

As I’ve written before, serendipity triggers innovation, the kinds of happy accidents that randomly occur when there are unexpected juxtapositions. If you take two or three random people and throw them together in a small space for even a short period, also, if it’s not a formal brainstorming session, it could trigger new thinking.

This is one reason why I’m a big fan of changing your space. You can’t expect your employees to be innovative if they do the same thing every day: get up at the same time, take the same route to work, sit in the same chair for 4-8 hours, then go home the same way. Triggering innovation requires a shakeup of the day-to-day rhythm, and interconnecting with others is one great way to make that happen.

Try this at work: recreate the “uber driver” situation by encouraging random people to meet for lunch or a 30-minute meeting. Don’t give it an agenda at all; just let your people talk. Tell each other about the projects they are working on, make some humans and work connections, and then do it all over again with a different person on a different day.

If you want to get systematic about it, create an enterprise or office-wide random lottery, pairing people up in entirely different areas and departments, then automatically finding them rooms and booking their calendars. You can even provide lunch if you like.

Just get those two random people in a room together. You’ll never know what kind of innovation you can unlock.