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Gleb Tsipursky


Serendipitous Idea Generation for Hybrid and Remote Quality Teams

A native virtual-ideation format taps into underlying motivations that facilitate creativity

Published: Thursday, February 17, 2022 - 13:03

‘I don’t see how we can replace the serendipitous idea generation of hallway conversations,” said Saul, the director of quality management for a 1,500-employee enterprise software company, during a planning meeting about the company’s post-vaccine return to the office. “If we don’t return to the office full-time, we’re going to lose out to rivals who do so and gain the benefits of serendipity.”

This is a common issue among organizations and one that can be addressed only by adopting best practices for innovation when returning to the office, as I told Saul and numerous other leaders who consulted me on the matter.

The problem was that while leaders tried to pursue innovation during the lockdowns, they also tried to impose their preexisting, office-based methods on virtual work. When that failed, they pushed for a full-time, in-office schedule after vaccines became widespread, despite the obvious dangers to retention and recruitment of doing so. Instead, they needed to learn to use a native, virtual format suited for online idea generation.

In-person, serendipitous idea generation

Many leaders tried to deploy traditional methods to facilitate serendipitous conversations during the lockdowns by using virtual conferencing techniques. These included encouraging team members to have such conversations, organizing team meetings in hope that members would have such discussions on the sidelines, and even scheduling regular videoconference happy hours with small breakout groups.

However, these methods, as leaders discovered, just transposed in-office practices onto the virtual environment. They were scheduled or managed, as opposed to immediate and unprompted. These methods don’t work for serendipitous innovation, which involves spontaneity.

Virtual serendipitous idea generation

Leaders need to use a native virtual format and tap into the underlying motivations that facilitate the creativity, spontaneity, and collaboration behind serendipitous innovation. This means creating a specific venue for it and encouraging collaboration without forcing it.

For example, organizations using Microsoft Teams could have each team set up a team-specific channel for members to share innovative ideas relevant for the team’s work. When anyone has an idea, at any time, they can share that idea in the pertinent channel.

Everyone would be encouraged to pay attention to notifications in that channel. Seeing a new post, they would check it out. If they found it relevant, they could respond with additional thoughts, building on the initial idea. Responses would snowball, and sufficiently good ideas would then lead to more formal idea cultivation and evaluation.

This approach combines a native virtual format with people’s natural motivations to contribute, collaborate, and claim credit. The initial poster is motivated by the possibility of sharing an idea that might be recognized as sufficiently innovative, practical, and useful to implement, with some revisions. The contributors, in turn, are motivated by the natural desire to give advice, especially advice that’s visible to and useful for others in their team, business unit, or even the whole organization.

This dynamic also fits well the different personalities of optimists and pessimists. You’ll find that the former will generally be the ones to post initial ideas. Their strength is innovative and entrepreneurial thinking, but their flaw is being risk-blind to the potential problems in the idea. In turn, pessimists will overwhelmingly serve to build on and improve the idea, pointing out its potential flaws and helping address them.


If you want to gain an innovation advantage in the future of work, you need to avoid the tendency to stick to prepandemic innovation methods. Best practices for innovation during the return to the office, such as serendipitous idea generation, will enable your remote and hybrid teams to gain a competitive advantage.


About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipurskyhelps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of 7 books, including “Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters” and “Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.” His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.


Good ideas

I enjoyed this a lot. I don't agree with the premise that being in a group in the office is either necessary or efficient when it comes to idea generation. My own belief (and I would love to see a study on this) is that--more often--the steady stream of non-work-related BS going on around you means you lose focus and become less productive. We use teams a lot...with open discussion groups as you suggested, impromptu meetings when someone does come up with an idea, and small group ad-hoc "water-cooler" meetings among colleagues working on problems. 

What might be nice in these ad-hoc brainstorming sessions is to set up roles and rules for these sessions based on something like DeBono's five hats...Maybe color-code comments, or add a circle with black or blue or one of the other colors, and try to (as a group) make sure that all five colors are represented. 

Asynchronous Brainstorming

Glad this was helpful! For a more structured brainstorming process, see my other article in Quality Digest https://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/innovation-column/virtual-brainstorming-innovation-advantage-hybrid-and-remote-teams-102621