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Randomised Coffee Trials (aka "having coffee and a chat with a relative stranger")

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When it comes to innovation, most of us under-estimate the power of serendipity and the importance of meeting new people.

In workshops, I always stress the many and varied benefits that building a network brings. So I often talk about the importance of serendipity, and of meeting new people – and it is heartening to find that the news is spreading. At a recent workshop which I ran for the Wellcome Trust, I mentioned the (strangely named, I think) Random Coffee Trials that are becoming increasingly popular in organisations as diverse as the Scottish government, the Red Cross - even the UK Treasury.

The idea is simple. People sign up to the programme, and are then randomly partnered with another participant, with whom they arrange to meet informally over a cup of coffee. There is no set agenda – some people talk shop, others have more personal conversations. But the end result is that silos are broken down, ideas exchanged, help and advice given, and relationships forged. Organisations such as Ashridge Executive Education claim that over 90% of those taking part have met someone they would not otherwise have met in the course of their work at Ashridge.

One of the participants in my workshop pointed me in the direction of an interesting piece in Network, the magazine of the Medical Research Council. By creating a pleasant environment where staff are encouraged to relax and chat over a drink (rather than drinking inferior coffee from a dispenser in splendid isolation), many at the MRC’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge claim that this has made an important contribution to the 13 Nobel prizes won by scientists working at the institution.

A nice example was provided by Professor Alessi who described how informal discussions led him and a colleague to realise they were, quite literally, working on two sides of the same coin – and that each of them had the answers to the other’s questions. The outcome is a potential new cancer drug.

If you’d like more information, or advice on how to organise RCTs in your organisation, do get in touch.

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Guest Thursday, 17 August 2017

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