At first glance, the word ‘serendipity’ might strike as something associated with accidental miraculous events and uncontrollable strokes of luck. Professor Christian Busch believes it’s more than just that; it is a mindset that can be cultivated and learnt if you choose to do that.
A lot falls into place if we go back to the famous tale of how the word came into being. Horace Walpole, the man behind it, defined serendipity as ‘faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.’ He drew a reference with the Persian fairy tale ‘the Isle of Serendip’ in which the travel of three princes leads to beautiful discoveries. These were not just a result of chance but also of deduction. The origins seem to be oriented towards serendipity being a skill which is relevant even today. And overlooking this aspect of serendipity could be equivalent to missing out on opportunities that you thought never existed.
Christian believes serendipity is about acting on the unexpected. How you react to situations you don’t see coming turns out to be the difference between what you call a positive coincidence or plain old hard luck. Picture a busy morning when you end up spilling your coffee on a stranger. You could apologise, leave, and either move on or continue thinking about it for the rest of your day. On the contrary, you could strike a conversation that creates something more.
Of course, the phenomenon is not always as simple as it sounds. Being firm yet vulnerable or taking a detour from the to-do lists you promised to stand by does seem daunting. Just like the available opportunities, potentially embarrassing situations are round the corner too. Christian takes us back through his high-school days when he could relate to a similar dilemma. Not having a group to stimulate ideas at that point of time, he understands the value of finding one. If grabbing spontaneous moments feels intimidating in the beginning, you can start by plugging into a community, sharing and absorbing thoughts and ideas in the context of what drives you.
While in high school, Christian did not seem to have a creative outlet that challenged or pushed him. The thrill of discovery and experimentation, for him, came during university in Germany. He talks about the issues with the almost singular approach of formal education, and how schools can help channelise the rhythms of serendipity, preparing students for the unprepared life situations, picking up latent opportunities as they move forward.