Insight is the key element of serendipity. Following serendipity’s original definition serendipity is something unexpected or odd – event, results, encounter or situation/context – that triggers insight. And this insight will eventually lead to value creation for the individual, community or company. In the global business world great insights are rare, and therefore so valuable, the competitive edge is often based on only one insight.

I have enjoyed a lot reading and re-reading Gary Klein’s brand new ”Seeing What Others Don’t – The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights” (2013). Gary is a senior scientist, received his PhD in experimental psychology. His previous books have been in the area of decision making, but in this new book he for the first time tries to analyze the ways we gain insights. And to Gary’s credit he does that by studying real life cases, not those clinical cases happening in laboratory settings.

Intuition is the use of patterns you have already learned, whereas insight is the discovery of new patterns

Reading Gary’s thoughts has helped me to find more understanding about serendipity as well. Many of his examples are pure serendipity cases, although he very seldom uses serendipity word as such. Yet the ways how insights are created in these cases are brilliantly described and inspire me to apply them also in serendipity research. The later part of the book, where the organizational obstacles are discussed, is extremely useful, we have already started to use some of the methods in our consultancy business.

According to Gary Klein insight will be triggered by (the picture above):

–       Connections

–       Coincidence

–       Curiosity

–       Contradiction

–       Creative Desperation

Most of these patterns are familiar to serendipity, creative desperation might be the only one pretty far away from classified serendipitous findings. Unexpected connections of ideas and people are in the core of the theme, most serendipity examples are related to this phenomenon. Coincidences and curiosity are also often present when something serendipitous happens. For me the notion of contradiction in this context was kind of insight itself! So instead of having an open mind, it some times pays off to have a suspicious mind – also when serendipity is involved.

For the harnessing serendipity purposes this new approach will certainly be a great alternative. Putting people in front of unexpected contradictions will sparkle (hopefully) their creativity and lead to insightful results.  The role of “Devil’s Advocate” might be a real catalyst in many communities and companies, as long as it’s understood the right way. And again the important drive to support diversity – and yet maybe add contradictory opinions – could stimulate the serendipity process in various ways. So often so called “innovation communities” are way too homogenous without any contradictions, the ability to tolerate uncertainty and different thinking is the key to fruitful discussions and solutions.