OPINION: How to make the most out of serendipity, ‘happy accidents’

Sunday September 13 2020


By Epiphania Kimaro

Serendipity is defined as the encountering of happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Serendipity has been attributed to many product inventions and scientific discovery throughout history. The word ‘serendipity’ was coined by a man named Horace Walpole in 1754. While serendipity, or happy accidents are often considered as merely accidents, happening by chance, it seems that we can reap more bounties from serendipity by having a prepared mind.

From scientific research to biographies, there is evidence to suggest that serendipity can be a product of an open and questioning mind – a prepared mind. Think of how many successful people attribute their success to a chance occasion of meeting someone, finding some information, or attending an event. The question then is what are some of the things that one can do to increase their chances of encountering serendipity?

Put yourself in the right place

We hear a lot of “he/she was just at the right place at the right time” – but can we influence this occasion? Consider what a business man thinks before opening a shop – “which area will be the best position for my business?” Just like the businessman’s brand or product, everyone is their own brand that needs to be sold and marketed to the right audience whenever the opportunity comes.

This reminds me of a colleague who is a PhD student, who was very clear that he wanted a desk near the office of his role model – he was deliberate about increasing the chances of meeting this person. As the Swahili idiom goes, ‘fuata nyuki ule asali’. Indeed, if the goal is to harvest honey, one ought to go to where the beehives are.

Make the most of being at the right place, right time


This is the proverbial Carpe diem: seize the moment. The one chance of meeting a potential client or employer at an event or meeting may never come again. Making the most of this moment means putting ego and shyness aside, and asking someone to introduce you to the other person, or when that is not possible and if circumstances allow, taking matters in your own hands and introducing yourself. What is the worst that can happen?

Show up, fully

Wise men once said that chance favours the prepared mind. To be prepared is to show up to each day knowing that every moment in future is full of possibilities and nurturing a dynamic mind that can thrive under new possibilities. A room full of people can equally be a room full of opportunities. The key is to see the people we encounter everyday as a potential dot that may connect with another to form a potential bigger picture of our lives.

Break monotony with inspiration

I recall a conversation with a colleague about his long email exchange with his supervisor over a matter they disagreed upon. The final comment from the supervisor was, “work on something else for now and let us come back to this in a few days”. When they reconvened on the issue, it took only a few minutes to hit a common ground.

When stuck in a rabbit hole of low motivation or lack of solutions, breaking away and seeking inspiration from something different is a great remedy. It could also simply be a matter of stepping away from the desk to speak to someone, or just ‘sleeping on it’. Whatever it is, when monotony lingers, punctuate it with fresh inspiration.

Replace ‘Yes, But…’ with ‘Yes, AND…’

‘Yes, but …’ is notorious for shutting down explorative discussions as it is often interpreted “I hear your idea and I reject it” or “I have a better idea”. In order to always encourage discussion and problem-solving, it is recommended to use “yes, and …”, which says, “I hear your idea or I agree with your idea, and I would like to add something to it”.

Ultimately, “attitude is everything”, although seemingly cliché, should remain a constant reminder to self and others. The ability to notice the opportunity in the room or the opportunity in a piece of information, or even the opportunity in a setback, begins with a positive and inquisitive attitude.

Ms Kimaro writes on leadership, and career and personal growth


Ms Kimaro writes on leadership, and career and personal growth