We are fast learning how to create “enhanced serendipity”

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Serendipity is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It originates from the story of “the Three Princes of Serendip”, which tells the tale of three princes who had the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries (see more on the story here).

For the last decade I have been talking about the idea of “enhanced serendipity”. For example I wrote about how I used social networking software to create enhanced serendipity at a Living Networks event that I ran in New York in 2003, used the term to describe what was done by mobile social networking platform Dodgeball (the first attempt in the space by the founders of today’s success story in the space Foursquare), and a longer post about Creating Enhanced Serendipity in 2006.

In today’s New York Times, Nick Bilton writes a post titled ‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web. He writes:

If someone approached me even five years ago and explained that one day in the near future I would be filtering, collecting and sharing content for thousands of perfect strangers to read — and doing it for free — I would have responded with a pretty perplexed look. Yet today I can’t imagine living in a world where I don’t filter, collect and share.

More important, I couldn’t conceive of a world of news and information without the aid of others helping me find the relevant links.

….

But we are solving the problem, through our aggregation. We’ve reduced the fear of missing something important because we share “controlled serendipity” with others and they with us. And without this collective discovery online, I couldn’t imagine trying to cull the tens of thousands of new links and stories that appear in the looking glass on a daily basis.

We are all human aggregators now.

This too is the world I live in and delight in helping create. However “controlled serendipity” is a meaningless oxymoron. You cannot control serendipity. However you can certainly enhance it, act to increase the likelihood of happy and unexpected discoveries and connections. That’s is what many of us do day by day, contributing to others like us by sharing what we find interesting.

Other ways of thinking about this are creating collective intelligence, contributing to the global brain, or transforming mass participation into emergent outcomes. However we describe it, it is extraordinarily valuable and important, and far more than many people recognize, fundamental to how we will evolve as a society.

  • You started out so well with the story of the princes of Sri Lanka but the theme that you elaborated as ‘enhanced serendipity’ seems to harp on enhancing chance encounters. Is that serendipity? Don’t think so. It is the mental ability to piece together seemingly unconnected items to gain total understanding of a situation or context. Think social media networking might just as well do that but not on what we have today. It might need to be developed further or we need to wait.

    Ref:More Sensemaking than Luck http://post.ly/1lg6U

    • That’s your personal definition, not consensus definition.

      OED says serendipity is: ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way’

  • David

    “Controlled serendipity” is like the way us 6 kids were brought up – “benign neglect”. It worked brilliantly.

    • 🙂 I’ll try it!

    • “benign neglect” was one of my mother’s favorite parenting concepts, along with the firm belief that youth have a right to take chances… and that accepting that gives parents a better shot at staying on top of what’s really going on. She had been over-monitored and had to sneak out to take risks ~ no one there if she came a cropper.