I went to see Malcolm Gladwell speak recently and was fascinated by what he had to say. I have read Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers so knew what to expect but his calm, engaging style was a pleasant surprise. His chosen subject was ‘serendipity’ which he described as the search for something that you do not know exists until you find it. A kind of accidental discovery. He outlined three levels of serendipity: Columbian, Archimedian and Galilean.
Columbian: Columbus set off not sure of where he was going, when he arrived did not know where he was and, on returning, was not sure where he had been. A little like my early school improvement plans! He confused Arabic and Italian miles, was looking for a route to Asia, thought he had landed in the Indies but in fact had discovered America! Pure luck.
Archimedian: Among other problems he was trying to solve, Archimedes had been pondering ways to measure non-standard solids. During his bath he stumbled on the solution. More than ‘pure’ luck, his chance discovery could be described as ‘deliberate’ luck. He had been seeking to solve the problem but wasn’t expecting to find the solution in the bath!
Galilean: When peering through his telescope, unsure for what he was looking, Galileo was relentless in his search for surprises. Failure was never an option to him as long as he just kept looking.
The message was clear – those with the courage to step into the unknown on a regular basis open up great possibilities for growth and success. Chance and risk-taking are key, with the Gaililean level perhaps the bravest of all. You just keep searching. You keep on looking, confident that somewhere out there surprises await you that may challenge but improve you. The message to leaders? Good luck is an essential ingredient of success so be courageous, chance your arm, never stop looking and you will create your own level of luck.
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