10/14/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Serendipity And The New Radicals

Yesterday, at the end of a long day, I popped back into my office to check messages and email. Just as I was sitting down to do so, my accountant came to mind. In the next instant, someone knocked on my door. Yes, you guessed it, there he stood.

If such talk makes you slightly uneasy, you're not alone. Yet most New Radicals I worked with or interviewed reported such moments. Sometimes they were sheepish about it, framing this part of their stories in ways that accords with their world view, talking about things such as "coincidence", "chance encounter", and "being in the right place at the right time."

However we explain it to ourselves, there is no doubt that synchronicity is at work in our lives and as we reinvent our work - and even more likely to occur if we are open to it.

Sometimes, New Radicals interpret these moments as signals they are on the right path. Mark Brayne is a prime example. Mark has successfully combined his first career - BBC foreign correspondent - with his second: he now helps journalists cope with the trauma they experience while on difficult assignments. Looking back, he could see that a series of coincidences kept him moving in a particular direction. "I remember going to a dinner party in London. I was heading into my midlife crisis and met someone at this party. 'What do you do?' I asked her. 'I'm a psychotherapist,' she replied. 'What's that?' said I." Here he laughed out loud at his naiveté. "Astonishing, really, looking back. I had no idea, and yet she was precisely the right person for me to meet."

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Paul Gillespie, founder of the Kids Internet Safety Alliance. Paul served with the Toronto Police Service for nearly 30 years, the last six as the officer in charge of the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit. Paul is as tough and as grounded as they come, but he, too, had a story. When it became clear that a database he'd been working on was going ahead, and that he would be traveling the world to talk about it, he had a moment of doubt, "Who am I, this municipal policeman who has the audacity to tell smart people in Washington and London what to do?" It was Christmas, and he was heading into the liquor store to buy supplies for the family party. A Salvation Army volunteer was standing at the door, asking for donations. When Paul gave her the last of his change, she handed him a card whose message gave him the strength to carry on. "I opened it, and read a line from the Bible, something like 'no one can close the doors I have opened for you.' And that gave me the boost I needed. I felt that someone was helping me in my work."

I wondered if someone who had talked to thousands of executives moving between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors (becoming New Radical Activists) had heard similar things from his clients. "Yes!" was the emphatic one-word answer from David Simms, managing partner of the innovative placement firm, Bridgestar. David says that, as a Christian, he feels that the Lord leads him, but that many of his firm's clients aren't believers, yet also talk about the phenomenon. "They use words like 'serendipity' to describe their experience of things falling into place."

Have you experienced synchronicities that helped steer your course? How do you explain these events to yourself? How might we learn to be more open to them? Please share your thoughts by commenting below, or by emailing me at