THE BLOG

Tactical Serendipity

10/14/2013 12:11 pm ET | Updated Dec 14, 2013

Have you ever met a person, come across an idea, or found a resource that was precisely what you needed at exactly that moment in time?

These "happy accidents" bring us surprise and joy. But more than that, they are essential to moving us forward as leaders and learners.

Serendipity powers the social web. Tools and technologies are being created every day to increase our chances of "bumping into" something or someone we aren't expecting, but greatly need.

In a TED talk, author Amy Tan tells us about an essay she wrote at age 11 that included the words, "Out of nothing comes something."

Since I first became fully involved in social media five years ago, I have witnessed the magical powers of serendipity. Some of the most profound moments in this phase of my life have come when I discovered something great while seeking something else.

I have built a network of fascinating and generous people online. These "random collisions with unusual suspects," as my friend Saul Kaplan calls them, have led to great conversations, shared meals, meet-ups, conferences, events, and significant partnerships.

I would have never have experienced the richness of these individuals and partnerships, or even been invited into your lives, without serendipity. My place, position, and influence, on the web and off, is a result of something I did not plan. Something I did not aspire to. Something I did not even know I wanted.

Each year, as the number of thrilling and "happy" encounters happened, I began to wonder; how much of this was actually an accident?

In The Power of Pull, John Hagel states,

"Serendipity can be shaped: we can make choices that will increase our ability to attract people and resources to us that we never knew existed, leading to serendipitous encounters that prove enormously valuable."

As I traced my "serendipity" back to the consistent, actionable, and replicable behaviors that I engaged in, I was able to analyze which ones helped accelerate these seemingly random events and encounters. Every day I began to employ tactics that "upped my odds" of awesome. I leveraged my own attributes and abilities to connect to others and explore new possibilities through them and their talents and experiences.

Now I teach organizations and individuals to summon and shape their own serendipity through a process I call "Tactical Serendipity".

Tactical serendipity is the intersection between structure and spontaneity.

It is the ability, capacity, and frame of mind that enables a person to have more structure and spontaneity than he or she could have of either.

It requires sensitivity and highly tuned observation, so that we do not miss things like unexpected opportunity, new ideas, needs, or the ability to establish clear goals and objectives that find good in our world.

You are literally 140 characters away from an interaction that can change your learning or life. You are one "like" button, one shared experience away from a transformative encounter. I cannot tell you who that will be with, when that might happen, or in what way things will change.

In a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Steve Jobs told the new graduates how he dropped out of college after freshman year, and then "dropped in" by sleeping on his friends' couches and showing up at whatever classes seemed interesting to him.

Jobs explained,

"I decided to take a calligraphy class. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts."

Jobs then explained the lesson of this story to the graduates:

"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

There is so much unpredictability in our lives. What I can promise you is this: if you are willingly open, ready to savor ambiguity, and prepared for unpredictability to come, then you will discover love that can break open flood gates, joy that will overwhelm you with its power and breadth, and opportunity that will saturate each day with anticipation and excitement.

So if you are willing to take a few minutes a day in your consciously prepared, overly-planned, highly-articulated life to let serendipity do its magic, the following tactics will aid, accelerate, and amplify your chances of an encounter that will change your universe.

1) Put Some Randomness Into Your Routine.

Serendipity occurs when you go looking for it. The more connected you are to different things, then the more exponential serendipity will emerge.

Serendipity occurs when you recognize it - it is present all the time, if you are looking for it.
Not having an end game, not having a clear and defined outcome, is scary. We do not have time to waste clicking around and wasting our energy on things that do not matter. How can I trust my learning, my work, and my heart to someone that I do not know? What if I waste time with a connection that might not work out? Worse yet, what if we get hurt?

Consider this- through the process of putting our guards up, protecting our identity, and summoning unnecessary barriers, we also condemn possibility, eliminate chance, and choose sameness and an uninspiring journey down the well-worn path.

Author and biochemist Isaac Asimov stated, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny...'."

Trust the Universe.

2) Get Out There.

Getting yourself out there, engaging the world with an open mind and exploring the unknown leads invariably to positive experiences, new connections and new opportunity and possibility. In particular, I've found that Twitter is a useful tool for accelerating the process of injecting random online experiences into my life and turning them into a source of offline fun, opportunity and possibility.

Share your genius with the world.

Many business and organizations are engaging with this idea of sharing and interaction, which often translates in the actual physical structures of their buildings to promote more interactions.

Remember what I said earlier?

More openness to randomness = more connection = more sharing= more serendipity.

Google recognizes this. In its new headquarters planned for 2015, the WSJ reports that, "Every worker within the 1.1 million-square-foot, multilevel complex is expected to be within a 2½ minute walk from each other."

In another article, "The New Science of Who Sits Where," the WSJ reports on several companies that have experienced enhanced innovation and breakthroughs by mixing up the seating chart to increase collaboration and knowledge sharing between departments.

3) Connect.

One of the easiest ways to increase serendipity is to be a better connector. The easiest example of how to be a connector is to connect two people you know who you think can create special value together. The fun part is that those people you connect will credit you with the connection, and, if they're smart, they'll come back to you with opportunities for you!

In a post on Forbes, Tara Brown writes, "The network of people with related interests that is being built up means that my chances for serendipitous moments increases exponentially each time that I make a connection. Some connections bring stronger and more beneficial happy accidents and some more quantifiable than others.... What I have learned in my exploration of serendipity is the importance of carefully choosing your connections and always nurturing them."

Use your social media. Say hello to a stranger. Write your favorite author. Introduce people. Reach out. Offer your opinion.

More connecting = more serendipity.

4) Tribe Hop.

It is human nature to surround ourselves with people who are exactly like us. We connect and spend time with people who share a common worldview, enjoy the same activities, and speak the same language. We join clubs to be with others like us. The most valuable tribe is a tribe of unusual suspects who can challenge your worldview, expose you to new ideas, and teach you something new. A tribe of unusual suspects can change the world if it is connected in purposeful ways.

You can meet new people with different ideas and interests all the while continuing to find those that share your own- the important thing is to remember that all of the matter. Every interaction you have can shape your future if you take the time to learn and grow from it. Even by simply following a new Twitter account or taking the stairs one day, you can experience new things.

Shake up your perspective.


5) Slow Down.

Hurry tramples watchfulness and thoughtfulness.

Have you ever walked to work or school instead of taking the train or the bus? During that brief moment in time you probably noticed things in your environment that you never had before, even though you take the same route every day.

Become a master at noticing.

The last time you got a haircut, did anyone notice that day? How did it feel when you got a compliment? How did it feel if no one said anything to you, no one noticed a difference?

Notice everything, especially taking note of the needs of others and responding with empathy and compassion. When you notice, you show others that they matter, and that corresponds to another connection, another chance to interact, and another opportunity for serendipity.

6) Invite Yourself.

Do not wait to be picked.

Politely, respectfully, and enthusiastically go to gatherings that you have absolutely no reason to attend other than you might learn something new, or meet somebody with a different perspective and experience. Make it a personal goal to attend gatherings where you do not know the people or subject matter. Better yet, go to gatherings that are designed to bring unusual suspects together and to enable random collisions.

Not only can you meet new people in these situations, but you can also learn all about new topics and discover new interests. Look up lectures, galleries, and exhibits in your area if you need somewhere to start!

By learning from the stories of others, we can paint a better-shared picture to achieve a clearer understanding of the world.

7) Be the inviter.

Let people know where you will be.

I let people know some of the events I am attending through tools like Twitter, Facebook, Eventbrite, and TripIt.

Don't get me wrong -- I do not telegraph where I am at every moment, but if I am attending a public event, I put it out there so that if someone wants to connect with me, they easily can.

When you invite yourself, you are taking advantage of the tools and experiences being offered to you. When you are the inviter, you are sharing these events, tools, and offerings with others. You yourself are serving as the connector of ideas; you are the sharer.

You are creating serendipity.

8)Collaborate.

Collaborators are everywhere. You will find them in the gray areas between silos. Just look up from your current business model!

Seek out difference, and gather often across boundaries, disciplines, and sectors. Be open and be curious.

Make sure you seek out potential partners and "sandbox mates" from across every imaginable divide, and listen, really listen, to their stories. New ideas, perspectives, and the value creating opportunities are in the gray areas between unusual suspects.

How do you react when you experience bias in your life, whether it is in an article, an interaction, or a relationship? I think 99% of the time you probably respond negatively to this situation, and your thoughts stop there. By collaborating and sharing, you learn and grow through different perspectives. The more perspectives you seek, the greater your understanding will be.

I learned my own behaviors that brought me more serendipity by looking back on my own interactions and those of others. If you take the time to do this, too, serendipity will come to the forefront of your own personal potential, which you can then spread to others.

9) Light a spark.

William Shakespeare said, "All things are ready if our minds be so."

Open up your mind.

Change the conversation.

Issue a provocation.

Set the system into dynamic motion. If you ask the right question, you can stimulate a collective evolutionary potential, and a network will unfold. Light the spark that illuminates the best of what we know, and who we are.

10) Be a "Go-Giver."

As my beautiful friend Bob Burg would suggest, one of the best ways to achieve your own awesome is to give, give, and give some more. His work inspired these great tips on How To Be A Go-Giver to stimulate your gratitude muscles.

I promise you this --if you go out and give something to someone, you will increase the chances of "happy accidents."

Final Thoughts:

Success is not an accident. Neither is happiness.

Tactical serendipity is fully embracing the choice to be random, ready to accept the unexpected gifts from the random collisions you will encounter.

You have something to give that is exactly what someone else in the universe needs, right now.

Someone else in the universe has something to give that is exactly what you need, right now.

The only way to meet these people is to pursue serendipity all the time, and not just when it fits your schedule.

Take charge of your life. Take charge of your destiny. Make tactical serendipity a core part of your life.

Remember, you are only 140 characters away from an interaction that just may change everything...