A highly essential question to be asked. I have contemplated this dilemma myself for a long time and it surfaced again when I read a fascinating SerenA guest blog . The story presented there by Ron Berti is inspiring and resonates well with my experiences. The core message of that story is to illustrate the power of oral storytelling, to share the indigenous wisdom of Native American -Anishnaabeg people, and to show the unlimited power of being in the wilderness far away from the metropolises – and best of all it helps us to understand the magic of serendipity.
By consciously considering the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, and the spiritual, we are able create conditions for a wholistic experience that engages all of our human capacities. It is when we do not take the time to do so, that people reduce the magic of serendipity to the logic of coincidence.
The power of the campfire and wilderness
The story takes us to the campfires on the shores of Lake Huron. It describes the magic of solitude, deep concentration and shows the ancient wisdom of getting physical, mental, emotional and spiritual elements balanced.
“We will find ourselves sharing a story/performance with a group of people in the following manner: outdoors under the open skies, around a fire, sharing cedar tea, in contact with the earth, comfortable and secure, but vulnerable to the weather, the night sounds, the insects and wildlife, and the daylight fading into darkness. It has been a journey to get to this place. There is anticipation, and the people who have gathered are alert and sensitized”
This is excatly how I have felt hundreds of times when enjoying my time in the wilderness and it also reminds me about the writings by Joseph Jaworski. He illustrates those unique wilderness experiences on the desert of Baja and mountains of Montana and also emphasizes the power of these experiences in five areas (Synchronicity, 1996, pp 101-102):
1) by giving the evidence that people are only using a fraction of their true capacity
2) by encouraging the participants to rely on their inner resources that are seldom tapped, to use their intuition and the ability to extemporize and innovate in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity
3) by building deep trust and respect among the group
4) by putting the fellows in situations that will cause them to reach deeply into themselves and be led into what Bohm called ”the generating depth of conciousness which is common to the whole mankind”
5) by learning from the entire experience how to be flexible and adapt quickly to change and new environments
This all resonates well with my understanding of serendipity. When serendipity is defined as the quality of mind, like originally coined by Horace Walpol in late 18th century, these wilderness experiences are elementary in brightening your mind and attitude to be more respective towards serendipitous insights.
The lure of metropolitan density
While researching serendipity I discover a lot of buzz around the need for unexpected ”happy” encounters and events. Harnessing serendipity is too often understood to be a synonym to the desire of being exposed to unexpected moments. This is only a part of the whole story. Unexpectedness is one of the elements of serendipity, yet maybe the easiest to facilitate. The more difficult parts are finding insight through preparedness and building value through hard work.
Density and diversity are extremly important in generating unexpected encounters, I just recently heard about a term ”coincidensity” introduced originally by Matt Biddulph formerly of Dopplr, the term is further highlighted by Stowe Boyd in various occasions. Density and diversity are the characteristics of dynamic metropolitan areas – and often also fundamental elements in well working virtual communities. But coincidensity is not a synonym to serendipity! The desire for unexpectedness is not natural in human life, it’s a fairly new phenomenon introduced by people, who want to engineer serendipity – and by doing so they are in fact only engineering coincidensity.
The lure of metropolitan areas is kept alive because of the business purposes, the connectivity to the vital business activities and networks has been easily organized when located ”on the spot”. Yet modern technologies enable us to stay connected virtually and some people advocate for the global communities – no matter where you live. So, the new lure for metropolises is emerging, when people start to categorize serendipity as an urban phenomena. It’s a fact that having an open mind and living in a metropolis helps you ending up to unexpected events, encounters and ideas. But does that overwhelming unexpedness increase your ability to harness serendipity, is everlasting drive to new connections, numerous events etc putting your Dunbar’s number to the limits? Are your unexpectedly found new weak ties really helping you to get insight and create value to yourself and surrounding community? Or do you sometimes desire to be on the campfire on Manitoulin Island or in Finnish wilderness, exposed to the call of Mother Nature.
Better of both worlds
We might have solution, we just need to understand the fundamentals. Why not mix the best of both worlds. I know quite a few nomadic people (myself being one of them) who either live in wilderness and visit the metropolises and big events regularly – or people who live in metropolises and go for these nurtures in wilderness whenever possible.
The current thrive of serendipity also opens up various business possibilities, not yet so commonly discovered. There is an increasing demand for well organized wilderness events, there is an emergent curiosity of the ancient wisdom among the aboriginal tribes – like Native Americans – and the permanent desire for understanding how nature really works. Even with small moves we are able to change the ways people think and relate, we have used successfully ”Walk and Talk” methodology while increasing our customers’s anticipation and receptivity in the beginning of a development processes.
In a build environment we can always add elements like (camp)fireplace and aquariums, for me these two are the most relaxing elements to watch. When you are not able to leave your business for a week and go to wilderness or scuba diving, then spending ten minutes on the live fireplace or watching aquarium is the best possible substitute. But I love to finish this article with getting back to the great ambience of Ron’s story, the campfire and the mystery on the shores of Lake Huron:
“He begins by asking for silence. Perfect silence. All creation stories begin with silence. The storyteller knows the silence will be broken sooner or later. And he is prepared to respond to whatever that might be. As he continues sharing his story, he now incorporates as many of these ’natural interventions’ as is feasible.
After a while, he need barely draw attention to them, as the listeners are now making all kinds of connections on their own.
A bird in the night. A dog barking. A cough in the group. An airplane flying overhead. A cellphone ringing. A baby suddenly laughing. Something falling from a tree. The crackle of the fire. A wolf howl. A car driving by.
But it’s not just auditory. A shooting star. A rising moon. An approaching storm. A sudden breeze. A sudden calm. The smell of a wild animal. The smell of the wood burning. The smell of a sneaker burning. Raindrops. Clearing skies. An eagle. Bats. The fire goes dim. The fire becomes bright. A spark flies up. Fireflies appear. The tea is ready. The tea is finished. The mosquitoes arrive.
By consciously considering the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, and the spiritual, we are able create conditions for a wholistic experience that engages all of our human capacities. It is when we do not take the time to do so, that people reduce the magic of serendipity to the logic of coincidence.”