Written by Corina Lupu, originally published on Design & Critical Thinking publication.

The power of informal conversations to generate innovative ideas

For the last couple of months now, a lot of us have been discovering the great joys of working from home and with that the disappearance of small talk around the coffee machine or the water-cooler. For some of us, in which small talk can elicit emotions of great anger due to the hate of meaningless chat (yes, I hate small talks, with an exception if it involves joking) it’s a relief. But something else was lost in the meantime, the benefits of informal networks.

While working remotely from our coworkers, our interactions have been very often reduced to the exchange of written information or to formal meetings in which there is a strict agenda to follow. You jump into a meeting with one click, the next minute, you get into the discussion, once the time is elapsed, the encounter is over. No time for either small talk, jokes, or any informal exchange. But, guess what, ideas leading to innovation emerge mostly in informal conversations.

According to Van de Ven (1986), innovation can be considered as implemented ideas. Studying creativity, the essayist Koesteler (1989) explains that ideas don’t burst out of nowhere into existence, but occur from friction and interactions of established or assumed knowledge. In an article called “Where Do Good Innovation Ideas Come From? Exploring the Influence of Network Connectivity on Innovation Idea Quality”, published in 2009, the researcher Björk & Magnusson observed that ideas emerge in social context.

The researcher noticed that ideas, which led to innovation, occurred to people who took part in informal networks. They concluded that in order to produce ideas, individuals needed to be connected to each other and involved in the exchange of knowledge. They also pointed out towards communities of practice as good places to learn and connect.

So now, back to our coffee machine/water-cooler missing piece in remote life, we can notice that actually the lack of possibility to interact with other people freely and unpurposely, is also endangering the generation of new ideas. If you are a designer or an innovator, if you didn’t already do it, it’s time to get involved in informal networks.

Have some serendipity

The Design & Critical thinking community has been created to connect people with different backgrounds but with innovation in mind in order to share knowledge. One recurring event that you should consider joining is the Virtual Chalet Meetup Event. It occurs every two weeks where we can take the space and the time to discuss, share ideas & experiences, find support, ask questions, and let ideas emerge.

Create the space for more possibilities!

Consider joining an online community 👉 Join our Design & Critical Thinking Slack now! 👈


Björk, J., & Magnusson, M. (2009). Where Do Good Innovation Ideas Come From? Exploring the Influence of Network Connectivity on Innovation Idea Quality. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 26(6), 662–670.

Where Do Good Innovation Ideas Come From? Exploring the Influence of Network Connectivity on Innovation Idea Quality
This paper aims to add to innovation management theory and practice by exploring the interrelationship between innovation idea quality and idea providers’ network connectivity, using social network a...

Koestler, A. (1989). The Act of Creation. London: Arkana. Penguin

The Act of Creation | Wikiwand
The Act of Creation is a 1964 book by Arthur Koestler. It is a study of the processes of discovery, invention, imagination and creativity in humour, science, and the arts. It lays out Koestler’s attempt to develop an elaborate general theory of human creativity.

Van de Ven, A. (1986). Central Problems in the Management of Innovation.Management Science 32(5):590–607.

Central Problems in the Management of Innovation on JSTOR
Innovation is defined as the development and implementation of new ideas by people who over time engage in transactions with others within an institutional orde...