3 min read

Back in 2014, I had the opportunity to attend my first Global Summit as an organizer of Startup Weekend. This was before the organization was purchased by Techstars, and there were hundreds (if not thousands) of volunteer organizers in over a hundred cities globally.

Once a year, the mothership would invite organizers from their home cities to come together for the better part of a week to meet each other, share best practices, and generally say ‘thank you’ for furthering the mission of entrepreneurship across the world.

The global summit in 2014 was held in Las Vegas, and specifically, Downtown Las Vegas.

This was right around the time that Zappos founder Tony Hsieh was pouring money into the community. He had pledged $350M in the revitalization of the Downtown Las Vegas project, which he hoped would become “the co-learning and co-working capital of the world.”

He was interviewed in Inc. in 2013 talking about his attempt to “maximize serendipity.”

My fascination with serendipity started in college. I think for most people, college was the last time it was normal to just randomly run into people all the time. As you get older, you drive to work, see the same people every day, then go home. But the best things happen when people are running into each other and sharing ideas.

At Zappos, we do a lot to get people running into each other. At our office, for example, there are exits on all four sides of the building. We’ve locked them all except one. It’s more inconvenient, but we prioritize collisions over convenience. The Downtown Project, our drive to revitalize downtown Las Vegas, does the same thing, but on a much bigger scale. We thought, How can we get people in the city to run into each other more often? So we’re moving our office into the old city-hall building, and we’ve already got 10 tech start-ups to set up nearby. It’s all about maximizing collisions and accelerating serendipity.

I remember hearing this idea in Las Vegas — this concept of cultivating collisions — and being completely enamored with it. It made total intuitive sense to me, because I’d seen it happen first hand — the value of a completely random conversation or interaction.

Community is one of the most important aspects of my life, but this is an element of community that isn’t explicitly talked about much. A lot of the idea of “community” is more aligned with the concept of a tribe — a certain group of people you relate to in terms of perspective, worldview, or a set of ideals.

The concept of collisions is what I love about the coworking space I’m a member of (Columbus Idea Foundry). On Tuesday of this week alone, I had three productive conversations that moved different projects forward because I ran into someone in the building who could give me an immediate answer or feedback. There was no back-and-forth emailing, no coordinating schedules — it was total serendipity.

It’s impossible to predict the value you’ll receive from just putting yourself into situations where you can be open to serendipity. And some (or most) times nothing may happen at all, but you can be sure no collisions will happen cloistered in your apartment.

I resonate so strongly to this insight from Tony in that same Inc. article:

I think you can create your own luck. The key is to meet as many people as you can and really get to know them. If you’re in an environment where you’re always running into people, the chances of one of those collisions being meaningful is maybe 1 in 1,000. But if you do it 100 times more, your odds go up.

My advice is: Meet lots of different people without trying to extract value from them. You don’t need to connect the dots right away. But if you think about each person as a new dot on your canvas, over time, you’ll see the full picture.

It all comes back to people. It takes emotional labor and courage to build authentic relationships, and “networking” isn’t a true manifestation of collision theory happening. But if you’re willing to put yourself out there and embrace serendipity, it’s only a net benefit.