On Serendipity

Serendipity always delights me! I guess it stems from the definition really, after all a ‘happy coincidence’ cannot but make you happy. But that moments when things line up, when you realise that a stroke of fortune is coming your way, well, I find that can light up the gloomiest day. I was thinking about this on my way to this afternoon’s meetup, a gathering of altMBA alumni in London. Living in the Isle of Man makes it harder to just drop in on these events, and I had missed the first one I knew about. But, as I’m heading to Web Summit tomorrow, this meetup just fell slap bang in the middle of my travel. In fact, it’s a pretty convenient way to break up a two-flight trip 🙂

There’s a great definition of serendipity on Wikipedia, but my favourite bit is the section of serendipity in scientific discovery:

The serendipitous can play an important role in the search for truth, but is often ignored in the scientific literature because of traditional scientific behavior and scientific thinking based on logic and predictability.

Successful researchers can observe scientific results with careful attention to analyzing a phenomenon under the most diverse and different perspectives. They can question themselves on assumptions that do not fit with empirical observations. Realizing that serendipitous events can generate important research ideas, these researchers recognize and appreciate the unexpected, encouraging their assistants to observe and discuss unexpected events.

Serendipity can be achieved in groups where a ‘critical mass’ of multidisciplinary scientists work together in an environment that fosters communication, establishing the idea that the work and the interest of a researcher can be shared with others who may find a new application for new knowledge.

I guess the takeaway here is that serendipity can be designed into a process. Removing rigour from a process leaves room for ‘luck’ and other anomalous events that can yield unexpected consequences. It’s up to us however to be open to these events and take advantage of them when they occur.

Something to look out for I guess …