I used to have a quotation on the wall as a History teacher that said “opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”. It’s been attributed to several people, but it’s the point that’s important: opportunities arrive in life, but you have to be looking for them.
Previously, I’ve called this (on my now defunct Discours.es blog) increasing your serendipity surface. In this post, Rob Miller breaks it down into three parts, which is interesting.
But if serendipity is the result of chance, does that mean it’s out of our control? Are we just at the whims of fate? Can we organise our lives to be more conducive to these serendipitous benefits?
Three factors govern the supply of serendipity in our lives and the extent to which we notice and benefit from that serendipity:
- Supply – how many opportunities we encounter
- Response – whether we notice those opportunities and how we respond to them
- Growth – whether and how we internalise the result of our encounters with serendipity
Our supply of interesting opportunities is certainly within our control. Most straightforwardly, we could deliberately put ourselves into situations of extreme novelty: travelling, for example, or seeking out new people to meet, or reading unfamiliar materials. It’s also possible to introduce randomness into what might otherwise be routine, as the writer Robin Sloan has described in his own writing process. However you do it, putting yourself in front of a steady stream of new things – increasing your supply of novelty – will increase the chances of encountering unexpected benefits.
But we’re also surrounded at all times by unnoticed novelty, which links to the second factor: the extent to which we notice and respond positively to novel situations. There are countless ways to respond poorly to novelty. We can ignore it; we can notice it but greet it with indifference; we can fear it; we can attack it, as we might if it runs counter to our existing beliefs. All of these responses ensure the snuffing out of serendipity. The only response that allows for serendipity is improvisation: embracing novelty and making it a part of what you do.