Using the Spotlunch Planner

Confused about the Spotlunch Planner? Please use this little tutorial to be a pro..

Once you click on the “Plan your lunch”, you will be taken to a page similar to the following.

Spotlunch Planner page

Click on the Choose days and select your available dates. Make sure you click on submit to save your selections.

Planner - date selection

Next, click on “choose restaurants”.  Click on “Select Restaurants” to bring up the restaurant search option.

spotlunch restaurant selection


If you don’t have the correct location selection, click on “change location” to select a new location.

spotlunch planner - restaurant selection

Once the location is selected, click on “back to search”  and enter the type of restaurant that you want to search for.

spotlunch restaurant selection

You can select up to 3 restaurants.

spotlunch restaurant selectionPlease make sure you save the restaurant selections.

restaurant selection

Wait for all other members of the lunch group to make their selections. Once all selections are in, Spotlunch will suggest the best date and restaurant option. If you want to communicate with other members, use the “Add comment” option.

Tag your interests – new feature

The title is kind of self explanatory, but if you would like a little more explanation, here it is!

Spotlunch is all about creating groups of people who can meet for lunch and network. Wouldn’t it be nice if they have some common interests? That’s exactly what this new feature would do. From your account page, you can access “my tags” page where you can select your interests. You can add your interests too.

Once you do this, rest assured you will find something in common with everybody in your lunch group!

spotlunch tags

(Spotlunch is a platform for face-to-face networking through lunch. Please see faq for more details)

The 18th century coffee house

What does a coffee house have to do with innovation? A great deal! That’s according to Steven Johnson, the author of a recent book “Where good ideas come from? The natural history of innovation”.

Tracing the history of renaissance, Steven Johnson says: “The 18th century English coffee houses fertilized countless enlightenment era innovations, everything from science of electricity to the insurance industry, to democracy itself”.

He sites two reasons for this. Coffee houses represented a space where people could get together and exchange thoughts. This is where ideas were formed and morphed into something more. Steven Johnson notes that an astonishing number of ideas at that time had some association with coffee houses.

Secondly, coffee also brought about a major change in habit. Prior to coffee, alcoholic beverages had been the primary drink in Europe, both for the masses and the elite. The transition from alcohol to tea and coffee, marked a transition from a depressant to a stimulant. We can imagine the collective impact of such change. Perhaps it is not an accident that renaissance coincided with the advent of tea and coffee.

Throughout history, coffee houses have often been a place of intense social interaction. In the 17th century, the Ottoman historian İbrahim Peçevi wrote about the prevailing culture in coffee houses:

“These were enlightened gentlemen who are lively and addicted to amusement. They could gather as groups of twenty or thirty in each coffee house. Some of them reading books, discussing rules of good manners, as others were playing chess or backgammon. Some brought their newest poems or discussed art.”

It is easier to see the role of coffee houses in innovation if we understand how innovation works. Steven Johnson explains the innovation process using the idea of “exaptation”. Exaptation is a term used by evolutionary biologists to describe a phenomenon where a trait optimized by an organism for a specific use, gets hijacked for an entirely different function. In the technology world, world wide web is a perfect example of exaptation. Tim Berners Lee proposed web as a mechanism for sharing information, but the web has been adapted for various purposes such as shopping, watching videos and sharing photos.

Most innovations happen in this manner. Arthur Koestler eloquently said in his book The Act of Creation – “All decisive events in the history of scientific thought can be described in terms of mental cross-fertilization between different disciplines”.

Stanford business school professor, Martin Reuf investigated the relationship between business innovation and diversity. Reuf’s discovery endorsed the coffee house model of social networking. His study showed that most creative individuals had broad social networks that extended outside their organization and involved people from diverse fields of expertise.

“Diverse, horizontal social networks, in Reuf’s analysis were three times more innovative than uniform, vertical networks. The limited reach of the network meant that interesting concepts from the outside rarely entered the entrepreneurs’ consciousness. But the entrepreneurs who built bridges outside their ‘islands’ were able to borrow or co-opt new ideas from external environments and put them to use in a new context”.

Collisions of ideas that happen when different fields of expertise converge in a shared physical or intellectual space lead to creativity. Physical proximity often increased exaptation, as reiterated by Kevin Dunbar, a psychologist at McGill University.

Dunbar studied the origin of innovative ideas by closely observing scientists at work. He setup cameras in four leading molecular biology laboratories and recorded as much of the action as possible. The most interesting discovery in Dunbar’s study turned out to be the physical location where important breakthroughs occurred. Those happened during regular lab meetings, where a dozen or so researchers would gather and informally present and discuss their latest work. In essence, “the ground zero of innovation was not the microscope. It was the conference table”.

Steven Johnson’s conclusion in the book is loud and clear. Chance favors the connected mind. Interacting with people who have expertise in different areas tends to generate far more interesting ideas than being a lonely inventor.

Spotlunch helps you build connections and find a shared space – we hope spotlunches will spur innovation just like the 18th century coffee houses!

Spotlunch planner

You joined a Spotlunch community and got the email about your first lunch group! What next? You need to plan the lunch. To help you with this, we have a new tool called Spotlunch Planner. Here is how it works.

Once you login to Spotlunch, you will be automatically taken to the planning page for your next lunch. Here you can choose your available dates and cuisine preferences. Select as many choices as you would like.

In the example above, the light blue color indicates selected dates of the user (05/16, 05/18 and 05/19) in the calendar. Cuisine preferences of the user are also shown. On the right side, you can see if other lunch group buddies have made their choices.

Once all members of the group make their selections, the planner will automatically find the earliest date that will work for all. It will also provide a consolidated list of cuisine preferences.

This is how the final planner would look.

complete planner

Now the lunch date is finalized and cuisine preferences of all members are known. For additional planning like picking a restaurant or car pooling, use the comment box.


Any feedback on improving Spotlunch Planner? Do let us know!

Where Facebook falters ..

Facebook has revolutionized the way we communicate, but not without limitations. According to research, social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are great at two things. They help us keep in touch with existing friends. Secondly, they allow us to reintegrate our networks so that, rather than having several disconnected subsets of friends, we can build one virtual community.

The research by Robin Dunbar who is a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford shows that making new friends require considerable emotional investment and face-to-face interaction. He says, “emotional closeness declines by around 15 percent a year in the absence of face-to-face contact, so that in five years someone can go from being an intimate acquaintance to the most distant outer layer of your friends”.

The idea of Spotluch is to make people meet in person. In that respect, Spotlunch is a nice compliment to existing social networks.

The new formula for power networking – Make new friends through Spotlunch and keep in touch with them through Facebook.

Rx for excellence

If you are looking for a definite pathway to excellence, here is one that would work for kids and executives alike. Select, Connect, Play, Grapple and Grow and then Shine. This is what Edward M. Hallowell, a chid psychiatrist, prescribes in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

In summary, Select means finding the right job that suits your interests and skills. It is a common sense approach but a few people are able to do this.

Connect is the next step, which is plugging into the larger community and tapping into the power of other people.

Play is imaginatively involving oneself in the work. The goal is reaching a state in which a person is so caught up in what she’s doing that she loses self-consciousness.

Grapple and Grow involves tackling the challenges and successfully overcoming them. Every time you work hard to solve a difficult problem, you increase your mental performance.

Finally, you need to appease the reward center of the brain. Shine is about making sure that good work is appreciated.

At Spotlunch, we have a vested interest in the ‘connect’ aspect of this pathway.

As Hallowell says “.. positive connection in business is slipping away. Colleagues often work in different cities, countries, and continents, and, thanks to technology, even those working in the same building may not speak face-to-face for months or years. At the same time, the recent economic crisis has created a climate of fear, anxiety, and mistrust. As a result, disengagement, one of the chief causes of underachievement and depression, is on the rise, and that can have big personal implications.”

It is clear that positive connections at work and interaction with colleagues increase productivity and engagement.

Enabling more and more face-to-face interaction is our goal. We believe this will help individuals reduce stress and reach excellence in their professional and personal lives.

Tearing down silos .. one lunch at a time

Do silos in your organization fail you? The solution could be as simple as getting employees to meet and talk with each other. This is the advice that Mark Gumz, CEO of Olympus has to offer ( “Tearing down the silos” sounds like a grand gesture, but it may start with a lunch.

In his own words, “I don’t allow people to eat their lunch at their desk. You have to go to the cafe. I want you to take a break and talk to other people in the company. It’ll be the rule as long as I’m the C.E.O.”

Now more than ever the power of networking is being recognized. Strong relationships are the basis for successful businesses, organizations and for personal (career) growth alike. As Keith Ferrazi states in his book, Never Eat Alone “Your network is your net worth” .

Gumz takes to this to heart when he says “…you have tables where you tell people where they’re going to sit — they don’t sit with the people they work with because you want them to meet new people. …it’s incredible what happens when people start to talk to other people in the business. We’re starting to see people moving around in the company — that’s how you build careers for people. I think that’s how a company becomes stronger and stronger, and that’s how passion is developed… And if you do it often enough, people feel comfortable with trying new ideas.”

We share the same ideas as Gumz. Go ahead and spotlunch next time. You might be on your way to breaking a silo!

A case for face-to-face

Can everyone on earth meet each other? Absolutely a tall order. How about beginning with meeting your neighbors? Or may be colleagues? You never know, you might find something in common… something that we can all share… it could be to collaborate on an idea or meet an important contact .. or may be to get that referral or just to share a  funny story.

Psychologists affirm that  humans are hard-wired for social interaction. A research published in the online journal, Public Library of Science One shows that twins start communicating as embryos as early as 14 weeks into the pregnancy.

Getting out and meeting people is known to have proven health benefits as well

Networking experts would say – get to know as many people as you can.  So, meeting people is good for you. But why is it becoming difficult?

In one sense, though we are living in an increasingly connected world, we are more disconnected than we have ever been. Technology demands a lot of our time and we tend to hide behind it.  Social networking sites like Facebook are great to keep in touch with our existing friends and sharing pictures; however they take away from valuable face-to-face human interaction.

Time is at a premium. We are constantly trying to manage time between job, family, career and other commitments.

In addition making new friends takes a little initiative. It takes some courage to make that new connection and find someone with common interests. This may not come instinctively to all.

Can these barriers be overcome?

We cannot lengthen our day. But we could find a convenient time. Everyone has to eat lunch (yes… there maybe exceptions). Could we transform lunch into something more? An opportunity to make new contacts face-to-face.

There is no way we can magically increase peoples’ unwillingness to make the first connection. But we could utilize technology to help make it easy by finding the right match. This will also increase the possibility of building a strong relationship.

The bigger solution lies in activating our inherent need for social interaction, which goes back to our ancestors who would sit around a fire to share a meal or a story.

There may be times when these basic instincts are subdued. We see instances where technology drives us in directions that are alien to human instincts. But eventually we find our way back. Examples include the shift from mass farming to organic farming and the trend of people biking to work while their cars are parked at home.

This might be the time to curb the virtual experience and take back the virtues of real face-to-face interaction between people.

Organizations, especially in the knowledge based areas, can largely benefit from these interactions. More collaboration often translates to more productivity and innovation, which is the life blood of any modern organization.

In a 2009 global survey of 2,211 Harvard Business Review subscribers, 95 percent of respondents viewed in-person meetings as a key to success in building long-term relationships. Specifically, face-to-face meetings were seen as most effective for negotiating important contracts, interviewing senior staff for key positions, and understanding and listening to important customers.

Helping people meet face-to-face and build strong relationships is a win-win formula for individuals as well as organizations.

Our hope is to make this easier and fun.

We present spotlunch.