Thinking & Meaning

Get lucky: Serendipity & you

Want to make luck work smarter for you? Tune into serendipity, connect the dots and take action.

From the birth of supernovas to Velcro, Post-It notes and Viagra, serendipity has had a part in creation and invention. From the world’s leading CEOs to superstars, many people credit it as a large part of their success.  Dr Christian Busch, author of Connect The Dots, says that serendipity is “seeing something in the unexpected, connecting the dots and then doing something with it. That’s different from blind luck.” Whereas luck feels out of control, building a serendipity mindset involves action, once the random has been encountered.

In a decade of research, Christian sourced scientific study and real-life anecdotes. He shows how serendipity works in both business and pleasure, from securing an investor for your brand to connecting with a potential life partner. His book is about when coincidence meets our ambition and imagination – that makes for a formula for success.

Here are 5 ways to strengthen your smart luck:

Actively become more aware

 

Life, as we know, does not follow a straight line. If we believe we can plan everything out then we limit ourselves as we think we’ve got everything figured and we miss noticing serendipity. “There are all sorts of studies which show that the more you open yourself up to the unexpected, the more we see it,” says Christian.
“Once you’ve built up a muscle for the unexpected, find practical ways to use it.”
“Based on some estimates, we have between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day, most of them repetitive and 80 percent of them negative.” So that’s a lot of chatter getting in the way of spotting serendipity and anxiety is only a distraction. “Practices such as yoga, meditation and visualisation can open our awareness and help us learn to let go.

 

“We then start solving problems not by trying to control the flow of life when we are in the moment (for example, in a negative emotional state), but by pausing and slowing down, and making decisions once we feel better.”

 

By keeping an open mind and paying attention to the signals around us, we “build a muscle for the unexpected, which becomes key to survival and resilience in times of great uncertainty,” says Christian. So stay alert to improve your smart luck!
“Our brain, much like our body, is a muscle that can be changed”

Take the long-view

Christian knows about looking on the bright side. At 18 he had a near-fatal car crash and in March 2020 was sick with coronavirus (“it was intense”), adversely affecting his breathing. “In the moment it feels really bad, that life may be over, but life has taught me to look for the meaning in this and take the long-view. For me, every bad thing somehow led to something which I wouldn’t want to miss.”
He points out that crisis is the point when we can bring out who we are but taking a long-term view can help with your serendipity mindset. After the car crash Christian’s motivation to make the most of life increased. From a wider perspective, he says: “Look at how quickly Covid-19 has made us question how we work, how we’ve lived and why we have to be open to the unexpected.”

How to seed a serendipity  hook

To improve your smart luck, learn to ask the right questions. Christian refers to these as “serendipity triggers or hooks”, which help us connect with people. So if someone asks ‘what do you do?’, don’t say simply, for example: ‘I’m in fitness.’ Because this only gives one point of connection.

Say, for example: “I’m in fitness as I help people improve their lives but I’m fascinated by nutrition and want to look at combining both, job-wise.” This reply contains three hooks: an aim (improving people) and a passion (nutrition) as well as your vocation. So people can ‘connect the dots’ – another of Christian’s key terms – and that’s three more chances to make a connection.

In our romantic relationships, he suggests starting the day by asking: “What do you want to achieve today and how can I help you?’ In the evening, “What did you learn today?” Yes, it seems weird at first he concedes, but the benefits of increased awareness are beneficial. Improving ‘smart luck’ in our relationships starts with a conscious attitude.

Note the unexpected

One exercise to build that serendipity muscle is to track the unexpected in a notebook. Try it weekly. This helps us to look back at meaningful opportunities to practise serendipity. Examples include: What happened last week which was unexpected? How did I react? How could I react differently so opportunities aren’t missed? The classic example is seeing that stranger in the coffee shop and feeling connected. Then when they leave, wishing you had started chatting. Who knows, if you spoke, what dots you may have connected – business, pleasure, even a life partner.

Serendipity enjoys a romantic encounter. Barack Obama was appointed Michelle’s mentee at the law firm. And, yes, Dr Busch has met a few of his own romantic partners via encounters in airports and coffee shops. (Now he’s married with a baby daughter.) This notebook will also help you see where you can still strengthen your smart luck. Can you follow up with that contact you met and email them about a business opportunity? Take a weekly smart luck check to see if your gut is still telling you to go for it.

Switch up your routine

We know the benefits of varied fitness training and this works for ‘smart luck’ too. Christian says: “Imagine a world driven by curiosity, opportunity, and a sense of connection, rather than by fear, scarcity, and jealousy. ” He aims to see his book on the curriculum of high schools, universities and on the agenda of company directors. “The more this mindset can be part of everyday practice, the more I’d feel excited.”

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