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The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck


Modern life can feel like an endless sequence of canceled plans, last-minute meetings, and delayed journeys.

So how can we use unpredictability to our advantage?

Christian Busch, Ph.D. shares key insights from his book "The Serendipity Mindset."

Christian Busch, Ph.D., is an internationally renowned expert in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. H

He is the Director of the Global Economy Program at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, and he teaches at the London School of Economics.

Christian shares 5 key insights from his book, The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck.

1. We create “smart luck” by setting ourselves up for the unexpected.

We often see the unforeseen as a “lucky” or “unlucky” event that just “happened to us.”

But when you think back to the things that truly shaped your life, there was usually an active element—you had to do something with it.

Imagine that you accidentally spill coffee on someone in a coffee shop,

and although you sense that there might be a connection there, you just apologize and move on.

But maybe had you talked with that person, who knows?

Maybe they could have become your life partner.

The same principle applies to business opportunities;

“smart luck” is about capturing unexpected moments and turning them into positive outcomes via our own actions.

2. Seed serendipity triggers.

When meeting a new person, many of us ask, “So what do you do?”

But we can set serendipity hooks and cast our net wide to achieve luckier outcomes.

When someone asks entrepreneur Oli Barrett the dreaded “what do you do” question, he answers something like,

“I love connecting people, I set up a company in the education sector, I recently started thinking about philosophy, and I enjoy playing the piano.”

He gives four “hooks” so that others can choose the one that most relates to their life:

“Oh, what a coincidence, I just started a philosophy salon. Let’s talk!”

2. Instead of pretending we have everything mapped out, what we really need is a good compass.

Despite life’s unexpected twists and turns, we often feel pressured to convey that we “have it all under control”

—who hasn’t presented their CV as if their life were a coherent, rationally organized plan?

But once we let go of the illusion that we can control everything, serendipity becomes possible.

Research shows that inspiring leaders often balance a sense of direction with an appreciation of the unknown.

Former Unilever CEO Paul Polman, for example, takes on many projects that come to him unexpectedly,

but he is intentional about how they fit his purpose.

Having a guiding principle or north star allows us to both deal with the unexpected and filter out distractions.

3. Focus on opportunity rather than limitation.

Once we look at how to make the best of a given situation, the most creative (and serendipitous) solutions emerge.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, breweries used their alcohol to make hand sanitizer, design companies started producing face masks, and musical artists captured digital audiences by teaching an instrument online.

Taking whatever is at hand, looking at it afresh, and recombining it with other objects, skills, people, or ideas frequently leads to exciting new insights.

You discover good luck by reframing your situation from one of passivity and powerlessness to one of activity and opportunity.

4. We need to make accidents meaningful—and create meaningful accidents.

The way we deal with the unexpected often defines who we are, especially during times of crisis.

When Best Buy faced a hurricane in Puerto Rico, they worked with the local community and hired private planes to fly their employees to safety.

It was the right thing to do, but in the long run, it also increased employee and customer loyalty.

In this way, they turned the unexpected from a potential threat into a source of opportunity.

So we do not need to have it all figured out in advance; a serendipity mindset will help us navigate the future.

How do we set up these serendipitous moments?

How do we create luck?

Here's Scientific Proof You Can Create Your Own Luck

Conventional wisdom states that luck is a matter of chance, similar to rolling a pair of dice.

Maybe someone you know seems to snatch up the best job opportunities,

your friend stumbled upon a great idea, or an acquaintance manages to maintain a happy relationship.

But what is it that makes some people luckier than others?

Richard Wiseman, a British psychology professor at the University of Hartfordshire, has been studying how luck plays a role in our lives.

He wanted to see how chance opportunities come about and their impact on people’s lives.

He began by examining the difference between self-professed lucky and unlucky people.

Wiseman found that lucky people score significantly higher on extroversion.

They smile twice as often and engage in more eye contact.

Their sociability, Wiseman explains, helps them increase their likelihood of a lucky opportunity because they meet more people, connect better, and maintain relationships.

Unlucky people, on the other hand, scored twice as high on neuroticism.

To see how anxiety affected people, subjects were asked to watch a moving dot in the center of a computer screen, as large dots unexpectedly flashed at the edges of the screen.

Almost all participants noticed these dots.

To increase anxiousness, the experiment was repeated with another group, who were offered a financial award to focus on the center dot.

More than a third missed the large dots on the edge of the screen that popped up.

While anxiety helps us focus on a task, it also blinds us to other opportunities.

As a result, unlucky people miss out on prospects because they’re too busy worrying about one thing.

They develop tunnel vision in their career, missing viable job opportunities.

Or, they might talk to a few select people at a social gathering, and then lose out on meeting other interesting people.

Lucky people, on the other hand, are open to new experiences.

They’re more willing to talk to new people, travel to new places, and try new things.

A Lucky Attitude Toward Life

Wiseman conducted another experiment.

This time, he gave people a newspaper and asked them to count the number of photographs inside.

Unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs.

Lucky people took seconds.

On the second page, there was a large message that read:

“Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

Unlucky people tended to miss the message, while lucky people spotted it right away.

The self-professed lucky people were simply more observant.

Lucky people are also optimistic.

They have positive expectations, which lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Even if things take a turn for the worse, they can spot the good in a situation.

Unlucky people might see the same situation and only point out the negatives.

Not only do positive expectations help people become happier, but they can also help make the most of difficult situations.

How to Increase Your Luck

To see if unlucky people could turn their luck around, Wiseman enrolled his participants in his “luck school,”

where he put people through a series of exercises to increase their luck. The results were astonishing.

After one month of enrollment, 80% of people reported themselves as happier, more satisfied with their lives, and most importantly, luckier.

The lucky ones became luckier, and the unlucky turned lucky.

They had been taught how to spot good opportunities, have a positive outlook, and to make better decisions.

To increase your luck, you can practice what the “luck school” participants did:

Keep an open mind (and pair of eyes):

Worrying about obtaining a goal endlessly can unknowingly close you off to other possibilities.

Having an open attitude and looking around for new opportunities can open you up to lucky chances.

Look on the positive side:

Focusing only on the negatives dampens your spirits and future expectations.

When you go from complaining about scraping your knee to being grateful that it wasn’t any worse, it becomes easier to try new things.

Do something out of the ordinary this week:

Routines can lead to ruts, whether it’s talking to the same people, eating the same food, or doing the same type of work.

Stepping outside your boundary increases the likelihood of a lucky break.

Many often attribute other people’s fortunes to good luck, while their own misfortunes are the result of bad luck.

It’s true that some people are born with advantages, or events happen to us that are outside our control.

You can always do something to build upon what you have. When you open yourself to new places, practice gratitude, and step outside your routine, you might find yourself getting lucky.

Be kind, Do fearless

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