Informal conversations stand for 1/3 to 1/5 of all innovative initiatives.
We normally set up meetings and work groups when starting a new project. Within four walls, fixed settings and colleagues we often know well, we work together to reach the best results. It´s easy to forget that informal settings may aid just as much as the more formal ones. It turns out that 1/3 to 1/5 of all innovative initiatives derive from other arenas, such as coffee breaks and hallway conversations. That´s why it’s important to encourage them.
It´s all about the dissemination of ideas and information. Strong social ties in the workplace stem from formal relationships, for example those connected in a project team or a department (Perry-Smith 2009). Although these ties are believed to ease communication and mutual understanding (Boschma 2005), they do not necessarily promote innovation. In order to achieve this, you need to rely more on “weaker” ties.
An informal chat or loose talk with those you normally don´t work close with might steer the brain in new directions. Smalltalk with seemingly less important connections might therefore work wonders for your company. This can lay the groundwork of “connecting individuals who have diverse perspectives, outlooks interests and experiences (Perry-Smith 2009). From here, new ways of thinking and innovative initiatives often arise. Hirst et al. (2015) confirms: Creativity and innovation are just as dependent on insights from indirect networks. So how do you get closer to these insights? Initiate smalltalk in between projects and departments. And walk the talk.
Boschma, R.A. (2005) Proximimity and Innovation: A critical Assessment. Regional studies. 39 (1), p. 61-74.
Hirst, G., van Knippenberg, D., Zhou, J., Quintane, E., Zhu, C. (2015). Heard it through the Grapewine: Indirect Networks and Employee Creativity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100 (2), p. 567-574.
Perry-Smith, J. (2009). When Being Social Facilitates Creativity. Social Networks and Creativity Within Organizations. In J. Zhou and C.E. Shalley (Eds.) Handbook of Organizational Creativity. New Jersey: Psychology Press.