Serendipity - what does it mean?
How do you leverage your (social) networks to improve opportunity?In his classic book, Austin (1978) distinguished four levels of serendipity or chance. They can apply to individuals, but a team provides more opportunities for them to happen – look for the similarities with what happens on social networks.
Chance 1 – ‘blind chance’ or accident
By sheer luck you just happen to find yourself in the right place at the right time. Nothing to do with your lifestyle, though you had the presence of mind to take the opportunity when it appeared.
A wide-ranging, energetic, enquiring lifestyle will tend to generate opportunities for useful chances to happen (though it can also result in lack of focus – you have to achieve a balance). As Charles Kettering, the engineer, put it: ‘Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you least expect it. I’ve never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down’ (quoted in Austin, 1978).
‘In observation, chance favours the prepared mind’ (Louis Pasteur). Specific, highly developed interests and background make you more likely to notice chance events relevant to that background. 3M’s Arthur Fry had been looking for uses for Spence Silver’s semi-sticky glue, so when the bookmarks in his choir-book kept falling out, his ‘prepared mind’ made the link to the idea of the now ubiquitous Post-it note.
This combines Chance III with an enhanced version of Chance II – you not only have a ‘prepared mind’, ready to respond to relevant opportunities that emerge, but also have a lifestyle that makes ‘relevant opportunities’ more likely to happen. This may be, for example, because you increase your networking and communication, or put yourself in more places where you are likely to be exposed to input you can use.
(Thanks to the Open University Business School).