Letting Go to Go Forward: The Role of Serendipity in Management

Letting go

The cornerstones of managerial capabilities are:  Planning, Organizing, Leading, and Controlling.  This has been drilled into anyone who has ever taken a management course.

But are these cornerstones the only way to achieve success in an age of constant, unrelenting change?

Should the ability to allow “serendipity” also be an important competency in order to succeed when everything around you is changing?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.”  These things of value can be unanticipated opportunities (e.g., new markets or customers), unforeseen developments (e.g., technology or lifestyle changes), or even the unexpected chance to finally hire someone who had always been “off the job market.”

While we can plan for the future, no one can actually predict the future.  By focusing purely on actions that we assume will lead to our predicted results, are we really focusing too much on models and assumptions that blur our ability to see and respond to what is happening now?

Big data has given us the capability to drill down into the causes behind effects and outcomes.  By doing this, we can better understand the correlations between actions and results.  When we understand why, then we are able to focus our attention on activities that are aligned with these correlations – and not “waste time” on other activities.

While I’m a firm believer in analysis to understand the underlying causes of any event (either good or bad), I also firmly believe that sometimes we need to “let go” of these models so that we can be more responsive to what is occurring around us.

While serendipity describes those lucky instances when we find something good that we hadn’t anticipated, “luck” can also be defined as the result of preparation plus opportunity.

Are we spending too much time on the preparatory actions that we expect to result in success or luck – but ignoring the importance of being open to new, unexpected opportunities?

Puleo’s Pointers:  Creating the Foundation for Serendipity   

If you are anything like me, “lucky” experiences were often not the result of planning.  Instead, they were the result of being in the right place at the right time and with the right skills.  In order to create a serendipitous environment, it is important to not only plan but also to be present, curious, and available.

  1. Be ready.  Serendipity does not eradicate the need for planning.  In order to take advantage of unforeseen referrals, contacts, and opportunities, it is important to be prepared.  Have you developed customizable templates to immediately respond to an RFP?  Have you kept abreast of trends in your industry and created potential responses to them?  Have you mastered the necessary or desired qualifications that the opportunity requires?
  2. Be curious.  It’s very easy to become immersed in the minutiae of daily operations.  Look outside at not only what’s going on in your industry, but also what is happening in other industries – even if they don’t seem to be related to yours.  Many game-changing ideas are the result of modifying something used in an area that seems far removed from what you normally do into an innovative product, service, or process in your own field.
  3. Be visible.  Serendipity seems to rarely occur from judicious networking within your own circle.  Instead, the “luck” of serendipity is unforeseeable.  Chance meetings or events are often the catalyst for serendipitous new relationships, partnerships, or even joint ventures.  Expand your horizons both intellectually as well as geographically (Internet chat rooms, groups, and social media are great ways to accomplish both).  Create ways to move outside your current box.
  4. Be willing to let go of something that is no longer working.  This is perhaps the most difficult element of creating serendipity.  It’s emotionally draining to let go of something that sounded so good on paper, in order to pursue a new track arising from an unforeseen (but highly valued) source.  A well-crafted vision is critical to stay true to over-arching goals – but serendipity will stimulate new, unanticipated ideas on how to achieve that vision.
  5. Smile, relax, and realize that you can’t plan everything.  This shift in perception not only wards off burnout, but also enables us to breathe, explore, and move forward.  Planning (while a good and necessary foundation) is, in the end, only a plan.  Plans are road maps, but they are not the actual journey.  By being open to serendipity, not only can we better navigate the inevitable unanticipated twists and turns, but also allow ourselves to enjoy the ride.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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