Ambush Serendipity And Discover Something You ARE Looking For
Serendipity is inherently appealing because its outcomes are inevitably pleasant. But although it is nice to have around, it is almost impossible to channel because those outcomes are usually the result of a lucky accident. However, it can be harnessed if you deliberately prepare your mind
Three Princes of Serendip
Serendipity is a nice word. It contains the promise of exotic adventure, with a dose of mystery thrown in. This great word became part of our vocabulary as far back as 1754 when it was coined by Horace Walpole who was taken by a myth about three princes of Serendip (which we know nowadays as Sri Lanka). These guys roamed the world in the manner of ancient explorers but with the intriguing twist that they made discovery after discovery of things that were not on their exploration bucket list.
Walpole’s label of “serendipity” caught on and Serendipity now tends to be regarded as a human aptitude. The Oxford English Dictionary for instance defines serendipity as “the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.” Less reverently, Julius Comroe Jr said “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.” However, its value as a human skill is diminished severely because of its unpredictability, its subjection to chance or fortune.
Modern Princes of Serendip
Notwithstanding this significant drawback, serendipity has played and continues to play a major role in the invention and discovery of remarkable products and services. Take Samuel Morse as an example. In 1838, while struggling to solve the problem of transmitted electrical information losing its strength over distance, he traveled by stagecoach. During that trip, he was struck by the manner in which fresh horses were added at journey stopping points to boost physical energy. This caused him to conceive of linking relay stations that could boost electrical energy. One of the simplest and most versatile methods of telecommunication was born when Morse Code became a reality.
And, in 1941, George de Mestral, a Swiss agricultural engineer, walking with his dog in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland, noticed that many burs from the cocklebur plant stuck fast to his trousers and to the dog’s coat. This prompted him to study them under a microscope where he detected that the burs contained tiny hooks that had caught in the loops of his clothes and in the dog’s hair. He went on to construct artificial hooks and loops embedded in materials to achieve a reciprocal binding mechanism that we now know as Velcro.
In 1962, an engineer and inventor Bob Kearns, whose eyesight was partially impaired, was driving in rain and struggling to see because of the constant movement of the wiper blades irrespective of the extent of the rain. Faced with this problem, he began thinking about how the human eye blinks to clean itself only when it needs to and went on from there to invent the Intermittent Windscreen Wiper that automatically cleans a windscreen only when rain falls on it.
And in 2006, an American software developer Noah Glass was trying to think of a name for an embryonic, online social network. One day, his vibrating phone prompted him to think of the impulses that cause a brain-muscle to twitch. He was attracted to the word ‘twitch’ which he chased down in a dictionary until he found a similar-sounding word that became the brilliant website name Twitter.
Serendipity Favors the Prepared Mind
So much for luck and circumstance leading to a beneficial surprise. All appealing stories but what can we do with them, practically speaking? How do we get lucky by design? Unfortunately, a consistently reliable blueprint for serendipity is impossible. Among other things, that would require an accurate understanding of how the human brain works.
However, what is possible is to take a hint from Louis Pasteur who was responsible for many remarkable discoveries in the causes and prevention of diseases. He said: “In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.”
So, how do we prepare our minds and become beneficiaries of serendipity? Taking the experiences of the innovators illustrated above, the common thread is that they all had in mind a problem in search of a solution. To “prepare our minds”, we must mentally visualize the circumstances surrounding an issue we are trying to resolve. Then, the moment analogous circumstances present themselves, we can seize it.
Take business problems. Many, if not most of these, have been encountered somewhere previously and resolved with varying degrees of success. In the same way that our historic innovators encountered an experience (albeit accidentally) that caused them to resolve a query they already had in mind, our alertness to certain parameters should cause us to spot the seeds of a business problem-solution that can help us.
But how to get rid of the element of chance in regard to those seeds?
These days, we have something most of the innovators illustrated above did not have: access to world-wide knowledge via the Internet. Although there is still some good fortune involved, specifying our circumstances via Google or another search engine could reveal an adaptable solution that we can successfully implement.
But what I have found to be even better is to establish a sort of Google for innovative ideas that have successfully solved business problems: Sebir.com. This site is set up explicitly to enable the discovery of relevant business solutions once the circumstances circumscribing a particular business problem have been specified.
Serendipity is innately appealing because it delivers a beneficial surprise. On the surface, this is due solely to luck. However, by articulating the parameters of a need we have and storing it in our minds, we can ambush serendipity instead of waiting for it to ambush us.