Serendipity – how chance boosts creativity at work

Serendipity – how chance boosts creativity at work

When “remote working” became the norm due to the pandemic, we asked ourselves what was missing. And we soon realized that the answer was spontaneous opportunities for informal interaction of the kind that gets new ideas circulating and creates moments of serendipity. The “Design for Sustainable Social Interactions” hackathon, which was organized by our Group between November 30th and December 4th attracted 50 participants from both within the company and outside, all of whom worked to find innovative, sustainable solutions to foster the creation of these moments of spontaneity. Alessia Sterpetti, Head of Open Innovation Culture and Idea Hub, explained how choosing this particular method is just one example of the Open Innovation approach that we as a company have been developing since 2015. Innovating together and sharing different points of view definitely bears fruit: our ecosystem is always open to the outside world because we know that ideas can come from anywhere.


The winning project was (b)e-curious, designed by Marta Collu, Alberto De Bin, Hend Elayek, Fabio Gabbarelli and Giovanna Resende de Menezes. Convinced of the necessity to reorganize corporate work, which is increasingly becoming remote working, the group concentrated on learning and training: seeing serendipity as a purposeful “chance” encounter, one that always presupposes a keenness to learn and discover. The application (b)e-curious, designed during the hackathon, was created to allow users to find a colleague available for a brief meeting, a quick chat, or a shadowing opportunity, online or in-person, by entering key words related to a question, a need or simple curiosity. Whether it’s the desire to learn about topics from another sector, meet new colleagues or solve a work-related problem, this app generates informal relationships and exchanges of ideas in a simple, fast and efficient way.

The runner-up was the Linkeable team, formed by Giulia Altobelli, Sara Solfaroli Camillocci, Alessandro Fantacci, Enrica Fiore and Gabriele Ianzano, with T.O.M. - Time On Me, a platform that helps make face-to-face time quality time.

In third place were The timelo(o)sers, consisting of Matteo Cepale, Valentina Mantovani, Irene Patria, Veronica Polverelli and Dejan Trajkovic, with their Recreate project.

Each team was flanked by a mentor and a tutor throughout the hackathon: the mentors, Senior Service Designer Daria Cantù and designer and entrepreneur Lorenzo Petrillo, monitored the progress of the entire project together with some extra-mentors who worked with the teams for shorter periods. The tutors, creative technologist Matteo Colombo and Senior UX & Interaction Designer Luisa Miolano, supported the teams in developing the visual aspects of their projects. Then, at the final pitch on Friday, December 4th, each team presented its project to a panel of judges made up of our Enel colleagues. 

The judges admitted that the process of evaluating the projects was particularly difficult as all 10 teams poured so much enthusiasm and creativity into their work. The selection criteria for the winner were: research (initial and subsequent prototype validation), wow effect (how genuinely innovative is this idea?), presentation quality, feasibility and the potential value of the project in terms of positive social impact. In-house colleagues received various prizes and rewards while there was a monetary award for external participants. 

“Innovation is part of Enel’s company culture and is one of the company’s core values, together with trust, responsibility and proactivity,” stressed Carlo Albini, Head of Innovability® People and Organization, Innovation & Sustainability, who took part in the hackathon as a member of the jury. “Involving internal Enel staff was a way to expose them directly to the challenges of innovation. The real return comes in the form of practical experience in the field and hands-on training in the powerful and vitally important element of our company culture.” The goal was ambitious: to design the future of a space in which all employees can enrich their professional experiences by creating opportunities for serendipity.

Anna Lottersberger, founder of LAND Education, who also helped organize the hackathon, talked about how the event itself came about because of a moment of serendipity. The idea was, in fact, sparked during online brainstorming sessions held over the March-April lockdown together with Head of Global Internal Communications Andrea Valcalda, and the seed of curiosity was planted about using hackathons as tools, so the idea became an actual project. Valcalda was keen to emphasize the spirit that fuelled the entire initiative: “By watching the hackathon and interacting with the various sections, I saw things that astonished me in a positive way: the most striking was the beautiful way our Enel colleagues interacted with the youngsters who brought all their freshness and their world view to the table. That is exactly what we call open innovability, and I think that we really need to develop this extremely productive relationship in the future beyond specific solutions. This way of getting different worlds to mix and interact is hugely enriching. It sparks so many new ideas and I believe it is a working method we should adopt even outside hackathons so that we can learn more from others.”