We all like to feel that we are in control of our lives. To this end, we each have an innate capacity, even desire, to plan and strategise. As a result, routines are constructed and processes created that govern virtually everything, from how and when we make breakfast to how governments are run (apparently). In essence, we appreciate some degree of organisation and predictability in our days. But despite even our best efforts, the unexpected remains an important factor.
The unexpected may seem to strike blindly, randomly bringing either cost or benefit. Many people may attribute their success or failure on the turn of “blind luck”. But what if there was a science-based approach we could use to actually help us foster “unexpected good luck” (serendipity)? What if we could take strategic actions to cultivate “smart luck”?
My decade-long research on leading companies, social enterprises, and incubators has shown that this is possible. In fact, many of the world’s leading CEOs and thought leaders have been using similar strategies to cultivate ‘smart luck’ for some time. By building “muscles for the unexpected,” they have been able to lay the foundation for potentially serendipitous encounters to occur. And by capitalising on these moments, they and many others have been able to enrich both their personal and professional lives.
When Covid arrived, it robbed us of the personal interaction that drives serendipity. But by interacting with technology in meaningful ways, we can fill that gap. Many of the strategies that can be used in person to help foster deeper connections and spark precious serendipity can be applied to our interactions in the digital sphere. As remote work becomes an ever more ubiquitous feature of the modern professional context, these strategies may prove essential in creating value and a sense of connection. Below are three ways to increase your own “smart luck”.
1) Set Serendipity Hooks: Asking questions differently and setting hooks can help generate mutual interest and lead to serendipity. When meeting new people on a video call, for instance, you can use unique and engaging talking points to frame yourself as interested and enthusiastic. Avoid the dreaded “What do you do?” and instead opt for something like “What are you interested in at the moment?” The answer may contain an area of overlapping interest and lead to the growth of a valuable professional connection.
If you find yourself at the receiving end of the dreaded “What do you do?”, you can offer a diverse answer covering your current interests – and “cast hooks”. Integrating several succinct but unique hooks (e.g., “I recently started reading etc., but what I’m really interested in is XYZ”) into your answer can give the other person ample material to find common ground with you.
Hooks can prove especially valuable in the context of more well attended digital events. During a Q&A, for instance, asking thoughtful questions like “What you said about [XYZ topic] resonated with me because I recently did [cast your hook here], and I was wondering about your thought on [ABC topic]” may elicit DMs from other similarly interested attendees. Perhaps valuable new connections, like friends, business partners, or employers, may be among them.
2) Plant Serendipity Bombs: The ease with which technology enables us to communicate to groups can be a great enabler of serendipity. To this effect, setting serendipity bombs is an important and rather simple strategy we can use to maximise our potential for “planned coincidences.” One tactic might be sending speculative emails or social media messages to people who inspire us, mentioning how the person inspired us already and how we’d love them to be part of our journey. Surprisingly often, people get back to us. LinkedIn InMail (which offers the ability to message every second-degree contact – which usually are hundreds of thousands of people) can be effective in this way.
3) Create Random Virtual Collisions: If you run a team, you can use practices such as “random coffee trials”, whereby you randomly match people across the organisation for a “quick virtual coffee”. It can be facilitated with an inspiring prompt (e.g., “what challenge are you currently facing in the organisation/how can I help?”), and usually leads to recreating “watercooler moment” serendipity and helps develop a deeper sense of belonging towards the company.
Hard work and talent undoubtedly are important for success – but why not work hard to create more luck? Cultivating serendipity allows us to experience more joy, meaning, and a sense of connection. Leveraging technology to this effect can be magnifying by extending our ability to network and communicate. While a post-Covid world may seem to promise lingering distance, in reality, we have never been better poised to expand and deepen our connections with one another.
Author: Prof. Dr Christian Busch is the bestselling author of Connect the Dots: The Art & Science of Creating Good Luck(“highly recommended”; Reid Hoffman, co-founder, LinkedIn), and teaches at New York University and the London School of Economics.
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