Work 3.0: The Serendipity Machine

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by Naresh Narasimhan on Friday, January 10, 2014


Session type

Technical level


The way in which we work has changed. We expect many things of our work: that it is engaging, that we meet different people and learn new things from them, that we create or are creative in a way that is of value to ourselves and to others. Sometimes we even strive to create things that through use bring joy to people.

This talk is about spaces that nurture this kind of working; serendipity machines that are designed to trigger unforeseen, happy accidents and encounters that spark ideas and drive innovation. In particular it is about Cobalt, our ongoing experiment with serendipitous working and the strategies both spatial and otherwise we have used to develop our "serendipity machine."


What on earth is a Serendipity Machine?

It is a space where diverse people meet to work. Duh!

You are surrounded by a community of people who have knowledge and skills that are complementary to your own. People who could become allies, mentors, partners, investors, customers, friends or simply fellow workers to commiserate with, in your quest to build businesses, services, & products.

Anyone can sign up to use this space—your only responsibility is to share your knowledge and skills to others around you who need it. In some sense this is your gift, or more crudely put your payment towards use of this space.

Such serendipity machines exist in other countries, and increasingly many companies are trying to adopt this model of working for themselves. Cobalt is a fanchise of, a prominent serendipity machine in Europe and an attempt to go beyond co-working/incubators/accelerators et al.

There is no market research that talks about the need and viability of such spaces so I cannot tell you about how this will all turn out. But I do recognize that there is a pool of talented professionals and creatives, like yourselves, digital bohemians who understand that a work space can be so much more than a desk and a chair. That though financial capital is important, social capital—the people you meet and the knowledge and skills you share are just as important in creating something of value.

Through this talk, I will share my experience in building my serendipity machine—Cobalt, my learnings and strategies, the ways in which I have adapted Cobalt from its cousins abroad to suit our Indian and currently our Bangalore context.

I am excited to know more about you and your responses to this revolutionary work-space.
There is a twist to this tale, which will be revealed at the end of the talk.

Arise knowmads. Welcome to the future.


an open mind

Speaker bio

I lead an award-winning architecture firm, Venkataramanan Associates, and have studied architecture at Manipal Institute of Technology and Harvard. I also don other hats as an urbanist, activist, and creative entrepreneur (full disclosure: I'm the primary investor in Cobalt) and maintain a healthy eclectic work-style. My interests include but aren’t limited to: social innovation, knowledge-sharing, communication strategies, cinema, art and popular culture.