Serendipity and a Serving of Humble Pie
“Be sure to schedule time every week for serendipity,” advised the conference speaker. “If you schedule it, you’ll make it happen.”
“Did she say to schedule serendipity?” I whispered to my colleague.
Long a fan (and beneficiary) of the joy of accidently tripping into discoveries, the speaker’s counsel troubled me. There was no way to schedule a fortunate accidental discovery—serendipity just happened.
Maybe I had missed some nuance in the definition of serendipity. I hadn’t. Author Horace Walpole invented the word in 1754. A Persian fairy tale, The Princes of Serendip, had been his inspiration. In the fairy tale, the princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.”
That confirmed my belief the speaker had it all wrong. Sadly, I mocked her advice several times.
Then a serendipitous and humbling moment found me. With so many topics and issues becoming polarized, I was researching dogmatism. Sitting there, reading the word’s definition, a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises, my reaction to the speaker’s words about scheduling serendipity leapt into mind.
Blindly accepting my stance that it was impossible to schedule serendipity as correct, I had failed to examine her meaning. I had heard her words, interpreted them with my filters, and rejected her position outright.
Serving up humble pie
Shame on me because her advice wasn’t wrong, it was flat out brilliant.
In a world that runs on tight time schedules and where there’s a plan for everything, leaving time open for spontaneity is pure genius. Of course, you can’t will the eureka moment to happen. However, making time available to reflect and imagine increases the odds of creativity and innovation occurring.
That’s what the speaker had meant—don’t get tunnel vision from an over-packed schedule; let unpredictability point to possibility. Life is a paradoxical waltz with times of chaos and control, structure and formlessness, spontaneity and deliberation.
How could I have been so unseeing? Psychologist Daniel Kahneman nailed it when he observed it was incredibly difficult for us to see our own biases. Fortunately, a bit of research rescued me from my blindness.
I both love and abhor my personal teachable moments. Love them because new paths are revealed, abhor them because I need them in the first place. Perhaps I’d better start scheduling them into my calendar.