Serendipity is often called as a lucky or happy accident, but let’s make this clear now. Serendipity is not an accident, serendipity is the quality of mind! An accident or a chance encounter might turn out to be serendipitous if there is enough sagacity, awareness and good fortune for allowing the insight. And the final requirement is that the outcome generates value. Now when serendipity is clearly becoming a misused ”buzz word” it’s useful to recall the original definition by Horace Walpole, a British writer, architect and politician from 18th century : ”Serendipity is the quality of mind, which through awareness, sagacity and good fortune allows one frequently to discover valueable things while seeking something else.”
Serendipity is not an accident, serendipity is the quality of mind!
The adjective for this is serendipitous and it can be used in a variety of contexts. An event, encounter, accident and even a person can be serendipitous when having the elements of unexpectedness, good fortune, potential for insight and value creation. Also physical and virtual environments and even organizational and personal practices can be designed to be serendipitous and hence enable to follow Nicholas Nassib Taleb’s advice: ” An approach to one’s life is to maximize serendipity around you.”
What is the term ”inverse serendipity” then? It’s not the opposite of serendipity, which is zemblanity. Inverse serendipity is a further elaborated form of the term ”reverse serendipity”, which I introduced while participating a couple of weeks ago in Social Capital World Forum 2012. For me to give a speech about the role of social capital in harnessing serendipity was an inpiring challenge and I knew that some insight will emerge to guide me forward. During the course of the three day event we had great speeches to listen and inspiring conversations to reflect. And as a result I discovered that when linking social capital to serendipity, one should naturally focus to the key elements of serendipity and especially to the insight.
How could insight be supported by social capital? When social capital is defined as Alexander Dill did in Gothenburg as ” the amount of the non-material assets in your community and your networks – like trust, preparedness, experience, diversity and collective wisdom” then the benefits of strong social capital are obvious. Social capital can help to find and generate the insight through your community and trusted networks. It enables one to tap to the tacit knowledge and the numerous flows of information, even to the collective intuition, which might become essential for the final insight.
The insight, the solutions are hanging somewhere around you; in conversations, in feelings, in evolving events and moments around you
Taleb’s great advice gives us a clear indication … maximize serendipity around you, so the trusted inner circle – the core community – is fundamental for the inverse serendipity. The insight, the solutions are hanging somewhere around you; in conversations, in feelings, in evolving events and moments around you. Your trusted community members might be able to give you the insight needed. And this illustrates my understanding of ”inverse” – instead of that lonely ”Heuraka” moment in solitude (like Newton, Archimedes etc) you can harness serendipity by the collective insight based on your social capital.