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Shaping serendipity

>> 13 February 2011

Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we didn't know we were looking for.
-- Glauco Ortolano

Serendipity plays quite a big role in creativity, because there is only so much you can actively search for when you are looking for new ideas.

Creative people tend to increase the probability of serendipitous encounters that may prove both relevant and valuable to them.

How do they to that?

You can't really find anything if you don't know what you're looking for.
But if you know what you're looking for you know where to find it, right?

Not necessarily.
Sometimes what you are looking for is just a vague idea. You have a plan about increasing the team spirit at work - but you don't really know how exactly you are going to do that.
Is it training you need? Or some team building events?

You need to give the issue some attention. You need to think about it, talk about it with colleagues, do some research. Write the project name on your wall or whiteboard. Have it in front of you even (and especially) when you are not actively thinking about it.

Your surroundings play a big role in shaping your serendipitous encounters. After all, if you live in a sterile, empty place, you won't bump into anything.

So look around you. Is your office a standard cubicle? The same furniture as your neighbor?
Can't decorate because company police does not allow it? Fine, you don't have to turn your feng shui house into a messy, cluttered place.

All you need is a box really. A magic box full of STUFF: wrapping paper, yarn, buttons, crayons, playdoh, post-it notes, wooden blocks, stones, shells, broken pieces of things etc. Fill your box with very diverse things. And whenever you are looking for an idea, open the box and wait for the magic to jump out.

When you are working on a specific project, you need to start with an new, empty box.
Give your attention to the project and everything that is related to it.

And whatever you come across that even slightly reminds you of your project - even though you have no idea why and can't explain what you're going to do with it - put it in the box. A video you like, a rotten piece of bark that has a great shape and texture, a picture in a magazine that is only slightly related to your idea.

You are preparing your project.

Whenever you are working on your project, open the box, spread out the contents. Let yourself be inspired by it.

Be prepared for luck. People who don't expect to find money on the street, will never even notice the penny on the sidewalk. Expect the penny. Expect luck.

Practice serendipity by exposing yourself to many surfaces: attend conferences that have nothing to do with your subject, connect with people that are the opposite of those you work with (i.e. if you are a ballet choreographer, go talk to computer programmers or soup kitchen volunteers). You never know what comes out of that.

Reciprocity and sharing
Creative people don't hide ideas. They talk about them. All the time. To A LOT of people.
The don't hoard ideas. They give them away.

Both reciprocity and sharing are good indicators of shaping your luck environment.

The people you talk to might give you some advice, or tell you a story that sparks an idea, or connect you with someone who does something similar.

When you give something (advice, help, your art etc), something you're good at, something that is of value, the receiver is most likely going to reciprocate. This is not the same as 'I give you this and I expect something in return from you'. Creative and lucky people give freely without any strings attached. Try it. It does a world of good.


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