How and why to cultivate conditions and develop skills for chance encounters that offer new business opportunities
Almost a century ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I thought of that observation as I worked my way through this book in which Thor Muller and Lane Becker introduce their concept of “planned serendipity.” That is to say, “a set of concrete, attainable business skills that cultivate the conditions for chance encounters to generate new opportunities. Planned serendipity also provides you with the ability to recognize and put these opportunities to good use by showing you how to create and maintain the kinds of work environments, cultural attitudes, and business relationships that value and reward serendipitous occurrences.”
To paraphrase Holmes, Muller and Becker help their reader to transcend a faith in blind luck with an understanding of serendipity “on the other side of complexity.” The business skills to which they refer are eight in number and, mercifully, are not the mind-numbing admonitions that so many authors recycle. In fact, each is less a skill than a component within a sequence by which to initiate and sustain planned serendipity. Muller and Becker devote a separate chapter to each.
Although both individuals and organizations cannot control much (most?) of the major events and developments they experience, Muller and Becker assert that decisions can be made about allocation of resources such as hours and dollars, division of labor, determination of priorities, what is – and isn’t – produced, and the philosophy or framework by which such decisions are made. According to a Hebrew aphorism, “Man plans and then God laughs.” Not always. Thomas Jefferson once observed, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Taking full advantage of planned serendipity requires working hard, of course, but it also requires working smart.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out a Harvard Business Review article, “The Making of an Expert” (July 2007), co-authored by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely as well as Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan (Second Edition), Peter Bernstein’s Against the Gods, and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.