What’s the Meaning of Serendipity, and can you Plan it?

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Thor Muller certainly thinks that you can plan serendipity!

Thor Muller, CTO and co-founder of the firm Get Satisfaction recently gave a talk, The Practice Planned Serendipity as part of the Unfinished Business series at Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU). Before we dive into what Muller said during his talk, first let’s look at what serendipity means.

The Meaning of Serendipity

Horace Walpole, English art historian and politician born in the early 18th century coined the word serendipity. Walpole who loved to write letters was also known as man of letters. In a letter to Thomas Mann he said that he coined the word serendipity from the Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. In the tale, the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”

Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford
Image via Wikipedia

As with many things, words often lose part of their meaning, or the meaning is completely changed over a period of time. The way that Walpole used serendipity, sagacity was an important aspect of the definition, which is the “ability to link together apparently innocuous facts to come to a valuable conclusion.” According to Wikipedia, “Serendipity is a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated.”

In Muller’s talk, he indicated that serendipity occurs when chance interacts with creativity. Therefore it’s possible to plan the conditions for serendipity to take place.

Getting to Serendipity

There are eight ways that anyone can experience serendipity in a planned way.

Collision: Serendipity requires motion. You cannot have serendipity without collision. Get out there – run into more people and participate in more events.

Preparation: Prepare your mind for serendipity and there are three ways to do so.

  1. Obsessive Curiosity
  2. Arrest an Exception: Have dogged determination. Hang on until you figure “it” out.
  3. Forget What you Know to be True: Nothing is sacred

Divergence: Be ready to divert from the original plan. Take another direction. There are two ways to divert.

  1. Branch-out: Take a different fork in the road. Branch-out from another branch, explore the possibilities.
  2. Spread Seeds: Spin off new components.

Commitment: You achieve serendipity when you stick to it, you are unwilling to divert from your cause. You know what your mission is and you adhere to it.

Connection: You run into the right people because of your network of connections – because you know the right people.

Porosity: You move the centre of gravity from within your company out to the customers and magic can happen.

Activation: We create the space for serendipity to occur. For instance, there is a certain individual that you’d like to meet, plan on how you can meet her. You could have a party and invite people who know her and encourage them to bring her along. So you create the space for serendipity to take place by having the party.

Additional Information on Serendipity

The Three Princes of Serendip, Part One

Making Science by Serendipity. A review of Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber’s The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity

The Three Princes of Serendip and the Merchant 

Now that I have attended Thor Muller’s lecture on The Practice Planned Serendipity, I am ready to test the waters.

How can you use this information? What do you have to add to the conversation? Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.



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