Serendipity and the Importance of Third Spaces and Third Places

Amsterdam is a known for its encounters and true to form there was a serendipitous meeting after the Cross Innovation project work was finished. We met up with Sebastian Olma who was interested in the work we had been doing during the day. He is, it turned out, an international expert in our area of study. He told us about his book …which I have just read called The Serendipity Machine.

In the book he  tells a fascinating story of the approach to  co-working, social networking and social capital and third spaces for third places. And what is intriguing is this is a new business model which seems to work in the real world. The basic principles are

  • Free coffees/teas and lunch for ‘creatives’
  • No payment need but a commitment to help others in the space at some stage
  • Booking in advance and registration is needed.
  • The Creatives have to detail their skills they offer – which is then available for all to see within the co-working space/ on line
  • The seats2meet locations make their money by hiring out meeting rooms.
  • The venues get a lot of publicity because of their business model – with a mesh of creatives who  spread the word
  • The creatives and those hiring out rooms are encouraged to interact by common tea/coffee and lunch facilities. ie encouraging Serendipitous meetings
  • This approach is being developed into a fanchise model (not a typo) which is allowing the approach to spread

The author recounts a number of examples of how this model has helped create business opportunities for those involved.  This book seems persuasive on how seats2meet is a very successful business model for co working spaces but I would like to know if any venues haven’t worked and if so why. Is this something that will work in a Dutch milieu but would it work in Birmingham  for instance? As an economist I would also like to know more about its impact on business and innovation in these towns and cities where they are located. Are there quantifiable effects? This is not carping just a thirst to know more.  I whole heartedly recommend you to read this refreshing  and short book. It can be purchased or downloaded for free – link above.



  1. Let me give you some more information:

    Macro-economic it is too early to tell the positive economic effect our approach has. I can guess, but various universities are monitoring and investigating this topic at this moment, so I better wait.
    I can give you some stats though:
    In 2012 approx 15.000 Knowmads (free agents or self-employed professionals as we call them) thought the system used our locations about 65.000 times. We received 10K reservations for meeting rooms representing about 125K visitors. Through our realtime dashboards we create the serendipitous meetings between both groups, check for the Utrecht locations. We offer our software f.o.c. and participants pay only a small fee after they start selling seats for Euros. Check

    Various locations didn’t make it, due to the underestimation of the ‘community ‘ factor. Those locations owners were old thinkers and didn’t join forces with the community and didn’t believe in ‘sharing’ thus in asynchronous reciprocity as the book describes to be a critical success factor.

    After opening over 80 locations in the Netherlands over the past 2 years, we are opening up in Tokyo later this month and are already active in Cairo , so why not Birmingham?

    1. Fascinating usage. Will await the academics further study on their/ your wider impact. Birmingham has plenty of creatives so in the right physical space it might work

  2. We have been running the Centre for Creative Collaboration in London ( on a similar basis since early 2010. Reports on our first two years of operation are here:

    We use the term “purposeful collisions” to describe how serendipitous meetings can form new collaborations.

    Happy to speak further!

    Brian Condon

    1. Brian, thanks for this. I will ask whether others involved in the Cross Innovate project know of you… I am sure they do and in the meantime I will have a look at your reports. We are looking at Cross Innovation and this ‘approach’ to creating fortuitous meetings seems well worth covering in the project.

  3. […] you because is  co-working but supercharged. I have briefly reviewed his book (here) which gives a detailed description of the approach. You can also purchase or download for free the […]

  4. […] If you haven’t got time to watch the video – co-working is where small companies and individuals share space; in an open format and where interactions are encouraged and supported to drive the creativity and success of all those involved. They usually involve flexible contracts and hot desking. These are not just a UK or US phenomenon but have a huge base in the rest of Europe. The Hub Westminster is one such model but there are other models such as A report on the success and effectiveness of this latter model was commented on in an earlier post on this blog. […]

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