August 7, 2020

Planning for Serendipity

Did you know, the word ‘Serendipity’ was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754?

The ‘Serendip’ part refers to an old name for Sri Lanka and a Persian fairy tale about 3 princes who were “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of”.

Lots of breakthroughs have been serendipitous – penicillin, graphene, Post-it notes, Nutella (apparently).   If you go back far enough most of what we eat and drink must have been discovered serendipitously – cheese, tea, kimchi, alcohol, even cooking food at all.

Serendipity doesn’t just happen though.   And of course someone has created an algorithm for it.

Serendipity is fundamentally about noticing.  Mindfully observing the world and what happens in it, without a specific purpose, but open to the possibility of discovery.

Three things are key to making serendipity work:

  • First you need time to notice.
  • Second you need to be exposed to the unfamiliar.
  • Thirdly you need a way to capture your noticings that allows them to be retrieved and reviewed from time to time, increasing the chances of making new connections or sparking new ideas.   Even better if you can retrieve and review as a diverse group of people.

None of these things are inherently expensive to do.   They probably also make life more interesting.

Why not find a way to plan them into how you improve your process, daily, weekly or monthly?

You never know what might turn up.