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Saturday, May 26, 2012

How to get lucky: Making serendipity work for your career | Thor Mullerm

When I decided to retire a year ago after 30+ years of working in local government communications, I set a new professional mission of working in nonprofit communications.

Unexpectedly, I'm still in the midst of setting that mission in motion, which is one reason this article caught my attention. I was already fascinated by the concept of serendipity. Mullerm writes here:
Serendipity is the ability to take a chance occurrence -- a surprising idea, person or event -- and make creative use of it. Yet serendipity can be exceedingly difficult to pull off in the midst of our busy work lives.

Why? Because we are psychologically wired to find the things that match our expectations and discount what doesn't. For most of us, our education and work environments only reinforce this behavior. We are tunnel-visioned. Yet the benefits of having a robust peripheral vision are overwhelming. Besides being responsible for so much of our innovation, peripheral vision is how we discover new opportunities and adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Hmmmmmmmmmm. Discovering new opportunities. That's exactly what I want to do! So what does  Mullerm   have to say about it, building his advice on examples of successful entrepreneurs.
Find the people that matter ...
Get out of the cubicle, and work for a few hours in the lobby, cafe or cafeteria where visitors are coming in and out all day. You might also attend local meet ups or conferences, but rather than targeting other people based on where they work or their job title, avoid looking at name tags altogether. The people who seem least likely to be able to help you (e.g. that crazy guy in the tie-dye t-shirt) might just be the most helpful of all.

Use surprise events ...
[W]e must foster our peripheral vision to rise above our to-do lists and be ready when a surprise event occurs. Dedicating time to non work-related interests helps us distance ourselves from our primary tasks. This distance allows us to make the connections across domains that lead to insights and innovations.

Solve problems based on unexpected sources ...
By developing a strong perspective we increase the likelihood we'll run into the very things that will be most helpful to us, wherever they emerge from.
Mullerm concludes:
Put simply, we can learn to harness serendipity as a rigorous business practice. The most successful entrepreneurs and business generally do, allowing chance to intervene in their routinized work lives, recognizing the most promising opportunities, and taking action on them, even if they challenge their best laid plans. Or, perhaps, precisely because they challenge them.
So, what did I get out of that? I'm not sure at the moment -- at least as it applies to my nonprofit mission. But it did get me thinking about some things he suggests. And perhaps the serendipity of that thought, prompted by this article, will lead to something promising!

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