One of the more challenging, yet tremendously rewarding, responsibilities of an events wrangler extraordinaire is herding serendipity.
Serendipity is defined as:
“…the occurrence and development of events by chance in a satisfactory or beneficial way, understanding the chance as any event that takes place in the absence of any obvious project (randomly or accidentally), which is not relevant to any present need, or in which the cause is unknown.
Innovations presented as examples of serendipity have an important characteristic: they were made by individuals able to “see bridges where others saw holes” and connect events creatively, based on the perception of a significant link…Successful researchers can observe scientific results with careful attention to analyzing a phenomenon under the most diverse and different perspectives…Realizing that serendipitous events can generate important research ideas, these researchers recognize and appreciate the unexpected, encouraging their assistants to observe and discuss unexpected events.
Serendipity can be achieved in groups where a ‘critical mass’ of multidisciplinary scientists work together in an environment that fosters communication, establishing the idea that the work and the interest of a researcher can be shared with others who may find a new application for new knowledge…”
With respect to events wranglers, a key part of the above description is the last section, where it talks about serendipity resulting from a critical mass of like-minded and complementary-minded people being in a group. That group setting likely describes many of the events you’ve been part of.
Some serendipity happens naturally as result of well-planned and well-executed events. When like-minded people are at an event, as a result of human nature at least a few of them will interact with each other, asking questions and offering opinions or information. A well-run event will improve the odds of serendipitous outcomes because it has built-in networking opportunities and presents topics that attendees are interested in discussing with the speakers and other attendees.
However, by going above and beyond the call of duty, by learning how to facilitate and encourage serendipity, events wranglers can increase the number of “collisions” between event goers. It’s not that you know or control what will happen as a result of the collisions. You just know that good things can happen. The more collisions you set in motion, the better the odds are that some of them will have a serendipitous outcome…
In January 2016 I read an article by Pagan Kennedy titled, “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity.” Pagan wrote:
“…A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, X-ray imaging…While researching breakthroughs like these, I began to wonder whether we can train ourselves to become more serendipitous. How do we cultivate the art of finding what we’re not seeking?
…So how many big ideas emerge from spills, crashes, failed experiments and blind stabs? One survey of patent holders (the PatVal study of European inventors, published in 2005) found that an incredible 50 percent of patents resulted from what could be described as a serendipitous process. Thousands of survey respondents reported that their idea evolved when they were working on an unrelated project — and often when they weren’t even trying to invent anything. This is why we need to know far more about the habits that transform a mistake into a breakthrough…”
I wholeheartedly agree with Pagan’s contention that we can and should cultivate serendipity. And as mentioned above, events can be perfect petri dishes for creating a culture of fortuitous interactions.
Tonight’s post is intended to plant a serendipity seed, rather than be a detailed guide on how to organize events that will have more serendipitous moments. Once that seed is planted, it’s up to you to water it, fertilize it, and do a conscientious job of cultivating the results of that seed’s germination. But I will be developing a few suggestions for you in an upcoming post, along with links to useful books and online resources relevant to serendipity.
Your “Events Wrangling” take-home assignment for today has three parts.
- Re-read the above definition of serendipity. Think back over all your events and write down three serendipitous things that happened during those events.
- Write down three ideas you can realistically do during your next several events to increase the likelihood of similar or different serendipitous outcomes during those future events.
- Come back to “Events Wrangling” to read my follow-up post about herding serendipity at events. (I’ll edit this post to include a link to that follow-up after I get it written.)
Until that next post about serendipity gets published, as you plan or run your events, put your three ideas into action and see what happens!