Flow, mountain riverDo you want to live either in Novaya Zemlya, the most northern, rocky, barren, icebound, cold, and deserted island of Russia – or in Sri Lanka, a southern land of spice and warmth, lush greenery and hummingbirds, sea-washed, sun-basted?

Do you want to make unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design – or do you want to frequently find better things than what you were originally looking for?

Are you prepared for the emergent Postnormal Era? Do you feel the Big Shift? Do you have what it takes to succeed in Society 3.0?

The answer for the first set of questions is obvious, unless you are the most extreme explorer by your character. Same answer probably applies with the second set of questions; yes, you want to discover unexpectedly wonderful things in your life. How are these questions then related to each other?

Making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design” is a phenomenon called “Zemblanity” and it was coined by William Boyd in his book Armadillo in the 1980s.  Sad enough, zemblanity illustrates still in many cases the traditional way how business is conducted. It may have been enough in the ‘normal era’ when linear planning and extrapolation of past events were enough to predict where we are going. Interestingly zemblanity is the polar opposite of serendipity. And the notion “Serendipity” has its roots in the Persian fairy tale “The Travels and Adventures of Three Princes of Serendip”, where Serendip indicates the ancient name of Sri Lanka.

For me ‘serendipity’ is the most expressive word – this is also exactly how Horace Walpole described it on the 18th century after he had coined the term when reading the Persian fairy tale – it’s a niche-word filling a semantic gap. I am well aware that most people are using word ‘serendipity’ as a Disney-like expression of pleasure, good feeling and happiness. Nothing wrong with that, except that they are missing most of the wonderful dimensions related to this complex phenomenon. For me serendipity is mostly a quality of mind, serendipity is a personal experience and it’s very delicate. I like to say “that serendipity is like a true love, the more eagerly you are looking for it, the less likely you are going to find it!”

The last set of questions about the transformation of our society will hopefully inspire us to find new ways of understanding the change. If we have a look how Postnormal Era (term originally coined by Stowe Boyd) – or Big Shift as John Hagel and John Seely Brown or Society 3.0 as Ronald van den Hoff are describing it, – will change our environment, behaviour and ways of interacting and conducting business, we might understand the challenges we’ll face in the future. In order to illustrate some of the fundamental challenges while entering the Postnormal Era I created a table (below), which was first published in my book a couple of months ago

                      Normal Era

Postnormal Era

Push –> Top Down

Pull < — Attraction,

Hierarchies, command and control

Leaderless organizations[1] connectivity and collaboration

Profit, shareholder value

Passion, stakeholder value

Linear planning

Non-linear planning

Optimizing, maximizing

Ecosystem building

Salary, career, jumping from company to company

Free-lancer income, key customers


Effectual entrepreneurship

Venture capital

Social capital


Community building

Global mass production

Local 3D printing, Third Industrial Revolution[2]

Corporations, traditional office

Free-lancers, CNOs, coworking, maker/hacker spaces,

Innovation management

Serendipity management



Stock of information

Flow of information

Local university

MOOCs (like Coursera)

Strategic planning

Agility, networked model


Gaining from unexpectedness

Investment economy

Sharing economy


Klout – score[4]

Business Plan

Business Model Canvas



Home, family

Nomadic life style


Global communities

Work-life balance (24/7)

Work-life balance (lifetime)



[1] See Gary Hamel’s thoughts here: http://whispersandshouts.typepad.com/r1112b-pdf-eng.pdf also Zappos new initiative to implement ’holacracy’ http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2014/01/03/zappos-gets-rid-of-all-managers/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhizome_(philosophy)
[4] A software that follows your activities in social media and measures your influence, see more: http://klout.com/home
[5] Check more: Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2012): ”Antifragile – Things That Gain from Disorder”, Random House, New York

To survive, or even better – to thrive – in the times of Postnormal Era we need to acquire new skills and understanding serendipity in all its dimensions is surely one of the key survival factors. There is a lot of great work going on globally in the field of serendipity, in the form of multidisciplinary research, the development of new environments, tools and services – a good example being Serendipity Machine at Seats2Meet. However, our journey to understand and harness serendipity is just in its infancy. When we continue our adventure, we will come to many cross-roads, where wisdom and careful thinking is needed. Choosing the right way is essential, sometimes even new trails need to be opened in order to proceed. Here are some of the future challenges listed:

  • when developing software to support serendipitous encounters and actions, how to deal with the algorithms in order not to support what I call pseudo-serendipity (check the great video by Eli Parisher of Filter Bubble), so letting the algorithm anticipate and decide what you want to see instead of giving you contradictory but maybe more fruitful results
  • how to design physical spaces in order to support serendipity and not only coincidensity, because added diversity and social density alone hardly can lead to serendipitous findings
  • to find ways of understanding the concept of‘habitus’ as a sense of place
  • to implement new and dynamic ways to form teams and manage communities

Our success in highlighting the importance of serendipity will depend largely on the energy and vision of the inspired and engaged advocates of serendipity. There are not too many of us yet, but my sincere belief is that serendipity is gaining momentum rapidly – and not only as a Disney-like expression of everything good, but in its true sense and complexity. When people start to listen and understand the great wisdom by Yogi BerraThe future aint what it used to be”from a right perspective, then we will see great examples and hear success stories of people being able to harness serendipity on personal, community and business levels.

This blog was first published 28th of August on Society 3.0 webpages.
The courtesy for the Flow-picture by Eeva Kaisa.