This book is like a fresh breeze from emerald mountains for the dust covered masses in huge metropolises. The pure power of it comes from the independent and sharp thinking of the author and those like-minded forerunners to who’s work he also refers to. It is a book of serendipity, but moreover it is a political statement, as the sub-title ”A Radical Politics of Innovation” indicates. In many respects the political statements Sebastian makes are valid and resonate also with my thinking, but certainly not with the TED-talk powered mainstream thinking of ’innoflation’ and start-up fanatics. So I am extremely curious of what kind feedback the book will generate in those circles.
The best part of the book is however not the political statement. Sebastian does a brilliant job in two areas. After having read his Merton&Barber bible thoroughly, he takes us through the semantic history of serendipity as a notion in a professional way. This kind of description is so far the best I have seen in any document or book related to serendipity. This background information surely is needed now, when even the taxi-drivers (or Uber drivers to be exact) are talking about serendipity. (Here I refer to the old wisdom from investment banking; when even taxi drivers talk daily of stock exchange, it’s time to sell all your shares…). With the ’accidential sagacity’ notion Sebastian is able to find the core of serendipity’s appearance. He is also able to add new and fresh dimensions to the notion of ’serendipity’ by an insightful reference to ’invention-imitation’ thinking by Gabriel Tarde, and especially valid when he talks about social entrepreneurs and social innovation.
After having read his Merton&Barber bible thoroughly, he takes us through the semantic history of serendipity as a notion in a professional way. This kind of description is so far the best I have seen in any document or book related to serendipity.
The absolute gem in the book is Sebastian’s conclusions about the rise of the Silicon Valley innovation culture. He takes us through the early stages of institutional serendipity (following the path already shown by Merton&Barber) by insightfully describing the emergence and success of two seemingly separate phenomena: the science of cybernetics and the countercultures like hippies in 70’s. Indeed, make love & war was the Silicon Valley’s original sin. And this is something, that none of those Silicon Valley fanatics probably knew before.
I also love Sebastian’s vision in the last chapter where he illustrates universities as Übungsraum; (Übungswesen) i.e. the human being needs excercise and training to grow into and beyond itself, and training (Übung) needs space, which Übungsraum should offer. The vision for the development of Higher Education Institutes provided by Sebastian is clear, insightful and understandable. The role of serendipity in this context is well illustrated and the whole chapter is filled with reasonable and logical elements for the comprehensive vision from where to build the future of universities.
Indeed, make love & war was the Silicon Valley’s original sin. And this is something, that none of those Silicon Valley fanatics probably knew before.
The political statement is written, in my view, following ”Devil’s Advocate”-style. Knowing the author’s background, which is by the way a highly interesting and inspiring story, starting as an East-German teenager punk-singer and ending up (so far) to be a Professor for Autonomy in Art & Design, it’s understandable that the basic tone in the book reveals both the passion of this young punk-singer and the sagacity of an Professor for Autonomy. And I love that combination. However, some readers might experience Sebastian’s message as too offensive and straightforward critics, and maybe a more Jester–like approach would have worked better.
Sebastian serves us with some fresh and illustrative notions like technology as pharmakon (could be both poison and cure), ’lack of future’ , ’changeless change’ and this gem ’disruptive-speaking strictly in the non-Californian sense of the term’. His many comments about TED talks and ’smart this and that’ keep me smiling, really sharp and autonomous thinking, but what else would you expect from a person with that kind of background and experience. The entire message here resonates well with my thinking and in this respect we are like soulmates.
His many comments about TED talks and ’smart this and that’ keep me smiling, really sharp and autonomous thinking,
Sebastian is able to illustrate many of these stumbling blocks like the failed creative industries politics, the changeless change gymnastics of ’social innovation’, the cynical practises of Digital Taylorism, the false hope of mass-entrepreneurship, the lunacy of techno-mysticism and singularity, the sharing fraud of platform capitalism and the hapless simulations of creative interdisciplinarity of contemporary Higher Education Institues. He is able to analyze them in an open-minded way, and he relies also in many stages on the wisdom of famous philosophers. This gives the book a brilliant and irresistible tone and a reader can enjoy the feeling that these intellectual mysteries have been discussed – and partly solved – already centuries ago.
His critics is spot on when he reveals the hidden secrets of Digital Taylorism. The absolute masterpiece (starting from page 111) a chapter titled: Killing me Smartly: Serendipity in the Hyper-Taylorist Office, where he refers to a Harvard Business Review article by some coworking/serendipity consultans around Zappo’s Las Vegas Downtown Project. There Sebastian finds the Jester-like way to express his insights of this totally absurd idea of starting to measure the quantity of daily interactions by some wearable personal devices throughout all working hours. I am sure you would love to wear one every day… and surely this might open up a new profession… may I introduce our new CIO (Chief Interaction Officer). Just wear this small device, prostitute your privacy, and our CIO will start to guide you towards more fulfilling and productive interactions and serendipity journeys in our conglomerate, yes!
Just wear this small device, prostitute your privacy, and our CIO will start to guide you towards more fulfilling and productive interactions and serendipity journeys in our conglomerate, yes!
Sebastian makes appropriate comments about the practise of calling pure trading actions as sharing economy. He is not alone with that critics and it’s more than justified. But his harsh underestimation of the positive impact of platform thinking is surprising and his argumentation vague. When talking about platform capitalism he in a very biased way only concentrates to the handicaps of a very narrow part of platform universe. His critics on exchange platforms and especially trading platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit and Upwork is justified, but he totally neglects the positive impact of development platforms in the forms of technology and competence platforms. He also somehow forgets the benefits, which even trading platforms can offer to the end users in the form of lower prices and better accessability. I strongly believe in the positive impact of especially development platforms and platform thinking per se, but in this matter I have a much broader perspective to the entire platform universe than Sebastian.
Please keep this in mind: ”In order to harness serendipity with joy and success, you have to respect it, not prostitute it!
The political statement made by Sebastian in this book is valid and we surely need more intellectual discourse about why the emergence of these naive fads and – I would even say hysterical mass behavior – are an ongoing phenomenon in our Western society. And yes I strongly agree, serendipity has to be defended! Making serendipity a ’buzz’-word, glorifying it and giving it new, Hollywood style happiness related meaning is really like prostituting the great original insight by Walpole and the fundamental work of Merton and Barber. Sebastian is contributing to this discussion in a fruitful way by showing and explaining the true character of serendipity as a processs and phenomenon. He also gives a lot of practical (and also ideological) advices on how to create environments and social structures where serendipity has a chance. So I totally agree with the overall message of the book, and I want to formulate it my way. Please keep this in mind: ”In order to harness serendipity with joy and success, you have to respect it, not prostitute it!”