The term “serendipity” can be traced back to an old of a fairy-tale, ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’. Serendip is the ancient name for Sri Lanka. The king in the story recognizes that education requires more than learning from books, so he sends his sons out of the country to broaden their experience of the world. Throughout the story, the clever princes carefully observe their surroundings, and then use their observations in ways that save them from danger and death. This highlights one of the key aspects of serendipity – putting yourself out there and allowing opportunity (or serendipity) to find you.
Today we tend to think of serendipity as being a fortuitous chance encounter, a stroke of good fortune, or turning an adversity into a positive. Christopher Little was a literary agent working out of small office in Fulham, London. His assistant was sorting through a pile of potential reject sample chapters they had been sent when something caught her eye about one in particular. She passed it on to her boss and like his assistant, something caught his attention. The chapters where not conventional and would potentially be a hard sell to a publisher, but Little decided to trust his intuition. That was the first stroke of serendipity. The unknown author didn’t know a good agent from a bad one, but something about the name Christopher Little caught her attention and she too decided to go with her intuition. That was the beginning of one of the most successful literary partnerships in history. The book was called Harry Potter and the unknown author J K Rowling. The 12 other agents who had been sent the same 3 chapters before Little, clearly lacked the serendipitous instinct that would have allowed them to spot the same opportunity.
Yahoo lacked the hand of serendipity when in 1998 they turned down the chance to license an innovative new search technology created by a pair of Stanford grad students for $1 million (that became Google). They had another chance in 2002 but the price had gone up to $3bn. They turned that one down too, along with opportunities to buy Facebook, eBay, YouTube and even Apple!
Serendipity is the ability to find good fortune and opportunity – often when you least expect it. People who are serendipitous, not only spot these chance opportunities and good fortune as they arise, they also act on them to make the most of the situation. In medicine, serendipity has often played a hand, bringing us cures like Penicillin and even Viagra – both of which were discovered by serendipitous chance.
So do you have the serendipitous touch – and how can you develop it if it’s not already there?
Let’s start by having a look to see if you have the characteristics to allow serendipity into your life with a short test.
Answer each question honestly with a simple yes or no.
- I tend to be good at spotting chance opportunities and like to be spontaneous and run with them.
- I prefer closed networking and like to keep my networking groups to a close circle of known friends and associates.
- When taking advantage of new opportunities, I have a relaxed and easy going approach and like to just go with the flow.
- I like to try and control things so that I can create more predictable results.
- When making decisions I actively seek the views and opinions of others and will look for independent reviews to help back up my choices.
- I tend to use my intuition and gut feelings when making a decision – preferring to trust my own judgement rather than that of others.
- When assessing new situations, I like to approach them with a clear mind rather than having a pre-set view of how to react.
- I believe most situations are predictable, which allows me to anticipate likely outcomes and be mentally prepared for them.
- When confronted with a problem, my first reaction is to focus on the full extent of the problem, so that nothing is missed.
- When confronted with a problem my first reaction is to look for the quickest and easiest route through the problem.
- Past experience tells me that if something hasn’t worked in the past, it is unlikely to work in the future.
- If I try at something and fail, I believe it is best to move on quickly, to minimise the time being wasted, so that I can move onto something else with a better chance of success.
- If I try something and fail, I try to understand the specific causes of the failure so that I can learn from them and try again. I like to stick at things and persevere until I get the result I am looking for.
- I generally expect things to work out for me – and accept that this doesn’t always happen straight away. So, it if fails at first, I will keep at it, believing a positive result will come.
- I won’t actively pursue goals I am passionate about when I know the chances of success are slim.
- I make a point of displaying a positive and enthusiastic demeanour in all my interactions.
- When something goes wrong, I often struggle to look for the positive spin.
- In tough times I recognise things could always be worse and so try to look for the good I can take from the experience.
- When things have gone wrong, I tend to dwell on them, looking for the reasons as to why they went wrong and specifically for me.
- I see chance meetings as a great opportunity to widen my experiences – whether they lead anywhere or not. For this reason, I am always up for them.
Now circle all the question numbers in column A where you answered YES and add up the total number of questions you circled in column A and write the answer in the sub total box. Next, circle all the questions in Column B where you answered NO and add up the total number of questions you circled in column B and write the answer in the sub total box.
Now add up both sub total boxes for your final score.
Now add the two subtotals together A + B. That is your Final Score:
Interpreting your score
Score of 14-20
If you scored between 14 and 20, congratulations! It certainly looks like you have the serendipitous touch. You recognise that in order to let serendipity into your life you need to maximise all the chance opportunities that come your way and open yourself up to them by developing a wide networking circle outside of your normal social network. You also trust your intuition and hunches and are open to acting on them and are prepared to take a chance on the outcomes, knowing that with perseverance, good things can come from them. You also recognise that even when things don’t work out, there is often a greater benefit hidden within, which you are persistent enough to dig out and act on.
Score of 10 -14
If you scored between 10-14, you display some of the serendipitous characteristics and have probably already benefited from some serendipitous outcomes in your life. To open yourself up to more serendipitous opportunities, think about letting go some control and allow yourself to go with the flow. Be more positive with your intuitions and accept that you win some and lose some – but need to allow some of the loses to occur, because within these can be great experiences that need to be learned. Also, there is the opportunity for you to turn them around and create a positive serendipitous outcome, but this takes effort and persistence on your part.
Maybe like Christopher Little you can see the challenges ahead, but this is a great opportunity to believe in the talent and expertise you can bring to the table, creating an outcome way beyond expectation and a chance to show both yourself and your peers your true capabilities.
Score Below 10
If you scored below 10 you are not really letting serendipity in. Its natural to want to control outcomes and not make mistakes, but remember, chance favours the brave, and if you want to experience some different results and opportunities, then perhaps its time to let go of a little control and try something new. Think about widening your social circle to include those outside of your normal ‘friend’ group. Accept that you need to fail a few times – there is valuable learning that comes with that and often some secret opportunities that you can dig out and act on. Think about being persistent to get a positive outcome. Successes don’t come straight away! Whilst it might look that way in the media, the success stories you hear about often come after a lot of persistence and hard work.
So how do we develop this serendipitous touch and take advantage of the chance opportunities that it can provide? Well it is easier than you think. Just Like Christopher Little did with Harry Potter, you need to do some further reading and all will be revealed. It’s in Chapter 4 of my new book Ten Minute Tactics©, which will be launching soon. Register your interest here and we will keep you informed of the launch schedule and keep you up to date on further developments, and no SPAM – that’s a promise!
In the meantime, here are some more examples of others who have harnessed the power of serendipity. If you have a serendipitous story you would like to share, I’d love to here it. Email me at Ian@tenminuteman.com
In 1945 an engineer for the Raytheon Corporation, Percy Spencer, was working on project for radar, which involved using a new type of vacuum tube. Whilst working he noticed that a chocolate bar he had in his pocket melted when he was close to the tube. After a little more experimentation, in October that same year Raytheon filed a patent for the first microwave.
The recipe for Coke was accidently created by John Pemberton and his lab assistant. Pemberton was a pharmacist looking for a headache cure using two ingredients – coca leaves and cola nuts. When his lab assistant accidentally mixed the two with carbonated water, the world’s first Coke was the result.
Botox was discovered in 1987 by Alastair and Jean Carruthers when they were experimenting with small doses of a deadly toxin to help treat crossed eyes and other eye-muscle related disorders. During the experiments they noticed that wrinkles and lines on the face magically disappeared.
In 2020 during the COVID 19 Lockdowns, I had the unexpected opportunity to stop flying around Asia every other week and instead sit down and focus on a personal project I had always dreamt of – writing my first book. Ten Minute Tactics© was born!