Serendipity as part of the creative process

by Jack Warren, Top Coach host and editor

“How many great ideas have come to you in the shower or on a bike ride or a run or while watching a movie? Think about it. Serendipity.”

Jack W 3Serendipity. Sounds like a fanciful word – one that might have been used in the Harry Potter universe. It is, however, a great word and a great idea. I’m afraid, however, that it’s far too underutilized in our modern society.

In the past, you quite often heard someone attribute a new idea or product to serendipity. More or less, it’s something that occurs to you or happens by chance. Serendipity is many times an essential part of the creative process. But just how often do we really cultivate the fertile ground that leads to serendipity?

Taking part of the blame is technology. Technology, while making our lives much easier, has also stripped away many of the tasks and activities that we approached differently in the past, leading to an almost non-stop stream of homogenous data that is already in line with our current thoughts and ideas. Frankly, many aspects of our day to day productivity have been made so much easier – and information so readily available at our fingertips — that most people don’t even know that they are missing some of these essential elements of creativity.

Just off the top of my head, I’m thinking of my last visit to the doctor’s office. Every person in the waiting room was on their cell phone (handheld computer!), scanning various curated content from Twitter to Facebook to news feeds to special interest websites. We have more places to get our content, leading to greater specialization and focus. There was a time as recently as ten years ago when the same people sitting in a doctor’s office would pick up a random magazine or newspaper and scan the headlines until they found something of interest and perhaps new or unique. A fewer number of options with broader content.

Today’s content – on websites, TV, radio, podcasts and more – is so varied that we pick and choose and gravitate toward content that aligns with our current interests. There is so much of this information readily available that it squeezes out most everything else. Additionally, we are far less likely to strike up conversations that lead down the road to new and varied topics — and, hence, discovery. Serendipity.

What can you do in your own life to create a fertile environment for serendipity and the creative process? And what can you do as a leader to foster or enhance serendipity within your staff, team, or organization? First and foremost, take time to think. This is something that I’ll write a bit more on in a future column. Secondly, for both yourself and your organization, set aside time for brainstorming and the creative process. Develop activities that are conducive to creativity and the development of ideas. Is a meeting just a way to review an agenda? Is a bus ride just a way to get from point A to point B? Is a team meal just a way to add calories?

How many great ideas have come to you in the shower or on a bike ride or a run or while watching a movie? Think about it. Serendipity.

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