Christian Busch reveals how to create good luck.
- How to connect the dots for smart luck
- How to turn random incidents into serendipity moments
- How serendipity develops grit
Dr. Christian Busch is the director of the Global Economy program at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches on purpose-driven leadership, impact entrepreneurship, social innovation, and emerging markets.
He is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the co-founder of Leaders on Purpose, an organization convening high-impact leaders, as well as the Sandbox Network, a global community of young innovators active in over 20 countries. Previously, he served on the faculty of the LSE’s Department of Management and as the inaugural Deputy Director of the LSE’s Innovation Centre.
- Book: The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck
- Twitter: @ChrisSerendip
- Website: SerendipityMindset.com
- Book: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
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Christian, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Thank you so much for having me.
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck.
We previously had on the show Annie Duke who was a former poker world champion and now teaches a lot about decision-making. And she’s had quite the statement which was that, “All the results in your life are due to your decisions and your luck. And so, you can’t do much about your luck so I’m going to get really great at decisions.” I thought that makes so much sense to me.
But, here, Christian comes along, and is like, “Well, actually, perhaps we can do some things to create good luck.” So, let’s make sure we cover both sides of that equation. So, tell us, maybe as we dig in, could you kick us off with one of your most particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discoveries you’ve made while researching and working on this serendipity stuff?
Yeah. It really comes based on the premise of saying usually when we think about luck, we think about this blind luck, to your point, as opposed to skill. It’s like, “Oh, my God, it’s just something that happens to us and we didn’t really work for it.” And serendipity is really about smart luck. It’s about that luck that we have to work for in some ways.
So, take the quintessential moment, if you have your really calm movements like I do, imagine you’re in a coffee shop, you spill a coffee over someone, and you sense there might be some kind of connection. You don’t know what it is but you sense there might be some kind of connection, professional, personal, whatever it is, and now you have two options.
Option number one is you just say, “I’m so sorry. Here’s a napkin.” You walk outside and you think, “Ah, what could have happened had I spoken with the person?” And then option number two is you start a conversation, that person becomes your co-founder, your next investor, the love of your life. The point here is the way we react to the unexpected, the way we connect the dots in that moment, essentially leads us to that smart luck.
And so, if you think about everything from Viagra, to potato washing machines, to how we find the love of our life, a lot of times that is based on our own actions. And so, what I’ve been working a lot on is the question of, “Is there a science-based framework that allows us to create more of those meaningful accidents but also makes accidents more meaningful?”
And so, to give you one example that I’m fascinated by because I think it’s a very tangible approach of how we can better our lives for doing this is the hook strategy. And the hook strategy, essentially, is all about saying if you would ask Oli Barrett, who’s a wonderful entrepreneur in London, “What do you do?” you know, the dreaded question that’s essentially putting you into a box. He would not just say, “I’m a technology entrepreneur.” He would say something like, “I’m a technology entrepreneur, recently read into the philosophy of science, but what I’m really excited about is playing the piano.”
And so, what he’s doing here is he’s giving you three potential hooks where you could say, “Oh, my God, such a coincidence. I recently started playing the piano. You should come by,” “Oh, my God, such a coincidence. My sister is teaching on the philosophy of science at university. You should give a guest lecture.”
The point is we can use every conversation to see the couple of information in there that essentially allows other people to connect the dots for us, and that’s how serendipity starts to happen more and more. And it’s almost like this multiplication of serendipity that we can have through this kind of practices.
And so, the hooks then is you’re providing multiple opportunities for connection or things to be latched onto there as opposed to just sort of like following the script, “This is what I do and that’s that.” And I guess, likewise, with Viagra, so I’m a little familiar with the story. So, how about you share? The discovery of Viagra was not quite what they originally starting to try to figure out. Can you share the story in how that connects to serendipity?
Absolutely. So, that was really a couple of researchers giving people medication against angina, the disease, and they realized, “Oh, my God, there was some kind of movement happening in male participants’ trousers.” And what would we usually do? We’d probably be like, “Oh, my God, that’s embarrassing. Let’s look away, or let’s find a way to cure that kind of side effect, or let’s get that off the table.”
They did the opposite. They said, “You know what, that’s unexpected but there’s a lot of men in the world who might have a problem in that department. So, why don’t we try to figure out how that could turn into a medication?” And so, that’s how serendipitously Viagra evolved.
And that’s actually, to give you one more example that maybe shows exactly that kind of effect is the example of the potato washing machine. And the potato washing machine was really a company in China that sells refrigerators and they were essentially…they had farmers call them up and say, “Oh, your crappy washing machine is always breaking down.” And so, they asked them, “Well, why is it breaking down?” “Well, we’re trying to wash our potatoes in it and it doesn’t seem to work.”
And so, what would we usually do? We’d probably look at that unexpected event and say, “Oh, my God, why would you wash your potatoes in there? Don’t do that.” They did the opposite. They built in a dirt filter and made it into a potato washing machine.
And so, it’s really that idea of, “How do we react to the unexpected moment, that kind of random events that happens? And then how do we connect the dots to something meaningful?” And that’s where we imbue meaning in it, and so that’s really what serendipity is about. It’s about somehow finding this kind of meaningful accident.
That’s cool. Well, so that already seems to be a theme here in terms of not being so maybe rigid, fixated, on the thing I’m trying to achieve or how it’s supposed to go, or the protocol or the rules, but rather having kind of an openness to what might emerge from this. Yeah, any tips on how we’d do more of that?
You know, it’s interesting. So, one kind of part of our research is focused a lot on that question of, “What makes people more successful than others in their careers, and when they run companies, or when they manage groups, or when they run their own life?” And one of the key themes behind that was really that the most successful people seem to have in common that they actually have some kind of sense of direction.
They somehow know, “This is approximately where I’m going. If I’m running XYZ company, a MasterCard, and I want to bring 500 million people into the financial system,” or, “If I am looking for a new job and I approximately know that I want to go into XYZ area.” But then this openness to the unexpected that it might not necessarily be exactly that kind of job that I’m looking for. And that’s really what a lot of them have in common, that they let go of this illusion of control, that you can know exactly what you can do tomorrow, exactly the kind of job you can find tomorrow.
I grew up in Germany, and I love plans, I love everything that reduces ambiguity, that reduces anxiety and everything else. But, actually, one of the things that I’ve realized in my own life, and the life in those people that I’ve studied and worked with, is that exactly that idea of having a certain sense of where we’re going but then unexpectedly, a lot of times, the most interesting things emerge. And so, it’s really about saying, “Let’s redefine that. Let’s redefine the unexpected from a threat into something that actually can make our life even better if we somehow reframe those moments.”
Okay, cool. Well, that sounds swell. And maybe to help pull that off, having some extra awareness of what you call three core types of serendipity might help. What are they?
Yeah. So, it’s really about, “Is there something we’ve already been looking for?” So, let’s say you’re Archimedes and you know that the king asked you, “Hey, can you tell me if this crown is pure gold or if it is something else, some kind of fake type crown?” And Archimedes wanted to solve that problem but he couldn’t find a solution, and he was like, “Okay. Well, let’s forget about it for a second. Let me go to the baths and just kind of chill out for a moment.”
And then when he went into the public baths, he realized, “Oh, the water seems to go up when I go into that, so maybe I can use that logic to figure out if there’s actually gold in that crown because the gold will probably part water in different ways or volumes than it will be if it will be some kind of other material.” And so, essentially, he unexpectedly found a way to solve the problem he already wanted to solve.
And so, that’s a lot of times, if I know I want to have a job in McKinsey and I want to apply to that exact job, and I always think I’d do that via XYZ application or XYZ contact, but then actually the niece of my father’s brother unexpectedly tells me about this one kind of person that I should connect with and I get the job via that person. That, essentially, is kind of that Archimedes serendipity that is one.
The other one really is the kind of more Post-It note where we realize we’re looking for one thing. So, in the case of Post-It, the beautiful notes, someone was looking for solving that in some way, like, “How do we essentially develop a stronger glue?” They were experimenting with strong glue. And then they realized, “Actually, a weaker glue is much more fun because we can then use that on these kinds of Post-It type notes.”
And so, it was something, they were looking for one thing, but while looking for that, something completely different happened. And so, that’s how when we look for one job, and then we might find a completely different job on that journey, and it’s just unexpected.
And then the third one, which is my favorite, is really when it’s completely unexpected, the kind of thunderbolt that comes from the sky where that’s the way how we fall in love a lot of times. We’re in those coffee shop moments, we just bump into someone, we didn’t see it coming, and it just happens.
But what all these three have in common, really, is that it’s all a process. It’s all a process. Rather than just like something that happens to us, it’s always the process of there’s some kind of trigger happening, something happens to us, but then we have to do something with it, we have to connect the dots and turn it into something. And so, that’s the beauty of serendipity.
And so, how can we get better at kind of spotting those triggers in terms of, I think, depending on your mood? I mean, in my own experience, in terms of like it’s something just sort of like a frustration, an irritation, a headache, or just kind of weird versus is it, “Oh, a wondrous opportunity”? So, how do we spot them and jump on them?
You know, it’s interesting. I’d cluster it probably in two different types. The one is really, in a way, the way we frame the world and the way we look at the world. And there’s this beautiful example of the lucky and unlucky person where researchers essentially took one person who self-identifies as very lucky and someone who self-identifies as very unlucky, so someone who says, “Bad things always happen to me and I’m always in accidents,” and so on. And we probably all know people in both kind of camps, people who are considering themselves to be very unlucky versus very lucky.
And then the researchers tell them, “Walk down the street, go into a coffee shop, order a coffee, and sit down, and then we’ll have an interview.” Now, what he doesn’t tell them is that there’s hidden cameras along the street and inside the coffee shop, there’s a £5 note, so money in front of the coffee shop, and inside the coffee shop, there’s this extremely successful businessman and there’s this one seat next to that businessman that’s empty.
Now, the lucky person walks down the street, sees the £5 note, picks it up, goes inside the coffee shop, orders the coffee, sits next to the businessman, has a nice conversation, they exchanged business cards, potential opportunity coming out of it, we don’t know that. The unlucky person walks down the street, steps over the £5 note, so doesn’t see it, goes inside, orders the coffee, sits next to the businessman, ignores the businessman, and that’s that.
Now, at the end of the day, they asked both people, “How was your day today?” And so, the lucky person says, “Well, it was amazing. I found money in the street, made a new friend, and potentially an opportunity coming up.” The unlucky person just says, “Well, nothing really happened.” And that’s the interesting thing, that there were two of those moments. The one is the moment of, “If I expect that things can happen that are good, I open my mind more to it. Once I believe that there could be good things out there, actually I see more of those dollar bills. Like, I found I’m consistently and constantly finding money in the street,” because people actually surprisingly drop a lot of money in the street.
But then, also, when you are in the coffee shop and talking with the businessman, that’s more the kind of extroversion piece, that the more we interact with people, of course the more there’s potentially opportunity coming out of it. But closet introverts like myself, like a lot of times serendipity comes from silent sources. It comes from reading a book and then saying, “Oh, my God, people haven’t talked about this for a while. I should do a podcast about this. This is kind of different.”
So, I think the one pocket is really around this idea of overcoming the bias of, “Oh, life doesn’t have something there for me,” because actually life can have something everywhere, and that’s the fascinating thing. If we talk about Viktor Frankl, and so this idea of you can imbue meaning everywhere and there’s always something interesting everywhere.
But, also, then the second piece, and that’s the one I’m much more interested in, actually, is the deeper psychological questions, “What are the self-limiting beliefs that we all have that really hold us back?” And that really is, you know, imagine you’re in a meeting and people talk about something, and you have this random idea come up but you hold back, you don’t talk, and then you go outside, and you think, “Ah, I should’ve talked about it.”
What was it that held you back? Was it, “I’m not worthy enough”? Was it, “I’m not ready, it’s not mature enough, the idea”? And, really, working on these deeper underlying biases because a lot of times we might see the idea, we might see something, but we might not act on it, and I think that’s the bigger piece. So, it’s both the kind of, “How do we train to see more things by not underestimating actually how likely the unexpected is?” But then the second piece, also, “How do we connect the dots and allow ourselves to do that?”
Cool, yeah. So, you mentioned self-limiting beliefs, are there a few in particular that kind of rise to the top of the list as being prominent and widespread serendipity killers?
One that I’ve certainly, myself, for a very long time, I’ve struggled with this fear of rejection. I think when you think about that a lot of times in life, the reason why you don’t reach out to someone, the reason why you don’t do XYZ, is because you’re afraid that you might get negative feedback, that someone might say, “That idea is bad,” “No, I’m sorry, I don’t want to date you,” “No, I’m sorry, I don’t want to offer you that job.” And so, it’s that kind of idea that we anticipate the worst case, and we’re like, “Yeah, okay, maybe not.”
And one thing that I’ve realized in my own life, and that I’ve seen with others as well, is once you redefine that away from the worst thing that can happen is rejection, to the worst thing that can happen is that feeling that you have afterwards if you didn’t try, that feeling of when you go outside and you’re like, “Aargh, I wish I had done XYZ,” and, really, that regret that comes from not trying. And that’s very Mark Twain-ish in terms of we won’t regret the things we have done, but we will regret the things we haven’t done a lot of times.
And it’s really that kind of overcoming, that fear in some ways, and it’s not easy but I feel like the more rejections we get in life, the easier it gets in some way to work on that. So, I think the fear of rejection is a big one.
One of my absolute favorites also is, I think, because we, or a lot of us, might have that tendency to kind of control things, we, in a way, then imbue a lot of meaning and trying to have everything under control. And so, as soon as something unexpected happens, imagine you go on a trip with your colleagues, and you organized the whole trip, and now there’s a tire that breaks down and that’s unexpected, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, no, this can’t be. We’ll be late for lunch or dinner, and that will ruin the whole day.” Or, “Hey, maybe this can become a bonding experience for this team. And, like, is there something in that moment?”
And so, I think, in a way, once we let go of this idea that the way we planned it is the ideal way, to, “Hey, actually, if something goes wrong, maybe that’s a great bonding experience, maybe that’s something in that moment that we can do something with,” I think then it gets really interesting. And one thing I’ve always found fascinating about presenters, for example, great presenters, I feel they always have this kind of line if something breaks down because they know the likelihood of something breaking down, the likelihood of a projector not working, of the moderator not appearing, whatever it is, individually it’s very small likelihoods. But if you add all this out together, it’s very likely that something unexpected happens.
And so, if they have a sentence at the beginning where they’re like, “Oh, my God, XYZ ha, ha,” that’s the way how they pull the audience on their side because the audience says, “Oh, my God, like they really can cope with that situation well.” And so, I think those situations, in a way, show real leadership but I think, again, we can all build that muscle for it.
Well, Christian, now I want to have a few of those sentences ready to go. Can you recall some of those?
Yeah, my favorite, really, so a friend of mine, she used to get very red. So, when she would go on stage, she would turn red, and so she would literally then kind of build that into a sentence, and say, “Hey, look, this is the warning signal that we’re about to start.” And this is kind of like something that directed her and something that could’ve been seen as a weakness, or something that where people would’ve talked about anyways. Everyone in this room would either have thought it or would’ve told the person next to them, “Oh, look, like this is very red.”
But by turning this directly around, she actually turned that into something that made her, like made the audience really be on her side. And I think, in my case, being German, we have a lot of anti-jokes. There’s a lot of dumb ones. There’s a lot of like when a projector doesn’t work or something, it’s like, “Oh, the slides were crap anyways, like it’s much better if we talk XYZ.” Things where it’s not necessarily funny in that sense but I think just having a sentence that allows us to bridge that, I think, that shows the audience, “Okay, great. This person is still in control. That person somehow tries to figure out how to just make that work.”
Yeah, that’s interesting, that theme there in terms of, “I am not freaked out by this not having gone to plan. In fact, maybe I find it amusing or I am somehow charmed or enchanted by it working out the way it has worked out,” really does put other folks at ease because it’s like if a presenter is in all awkward, nervous, feeling uncomfortable, well, then the audience is as well. And so, if you go there, that’s cool.
I guess, in some ways, this all seems a little bit easier said than done, I think, particularly maybe when the stakes are high when you really want the thing that you’re really going after, and you have invested a lot of yourself in terms of the time, the money, the resources, into making something unfold the way you want it to, and then it just doesn’t: there’s a flat tire, the slides don’t work, nobody shows up to the thing. Yeah, any pro tips on how to get better at that?
It sounds like you’ve already mentioned previously that the more we can believe and accept that things not working according to plan can be in our best interest and truly an asset. That’s great. And I guess it’d be helpful if maybe you should make a list of such things that happen in your life, like, “Hey, here is some evidence.” But how else do you recommend that we get there when, yeah, when the stakes are high?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve seen a lot with my students who, when COVID happened, a lot of them had their jobs lined up after graduation or their internships. They always wanted an internship in XYZ bank, and they worked so long for it, and they worked all their contacts work out, and then COVID happened, and it just didn’t. And so, it was this kind of very high-stake first-job type situation where you really felt, “This is what I really want to do. This is what I really need at this point in time.”
And what I found fascinating, and now one and a half years in. Having conversations with some of those students, it is tough. Like, I remember when I graduated in 2007, we had the financial crisis hit. I had so much mapped out, and then that crisis hit, and you just got it emotionally and cognitively, you’re just like, “Oh, my God, life is over and that is it.”
I think one of the things that I’ve always been fascinated by is that kind of question of, “When we look at it in the long run, like when we look at this kind of two, three, four, five, six years, like what does it really mean?”
I’ve seen the same with my jobs, for example. I was on a consultancy track and then, essentially, serendipitously fell into the startup world first, and that was very kind of…it felt like in that moment, “Oh, my God, there’s something going wrong here.” But actually, it turned out, when looking back now, I wondered, like, “Why would I ever even consider that?”
And so, I think to your point, like in the moment it always feels very tough and rough, that’s kind of moments of, “Oh, my God, this is exactly what I wanted. I worked so hard for this for years.” And then I think with a bit of distance over time, what happens a lot of times is that we’re saying, “Oh, actually, I only had limited information at that time. Actually, at that time also, I was another person than I am now because I went through this kind of tough period.”
And so, I think a lot of times, when looking back, it’s this beautiful saying that if it’s not a happy ending, maybe it’s not the ending yet, and maybe we shouldn’t stop the story too early. And I’ve seen that with a lot of people who I consider to be extremely successful, that they essentially have a certain story stop at some point, but then they develop that grit and that persistence. And that is my kind of, on the more actionable side.
I’ve always been a big fan of that perspective-taking, or that kind of when we are in this emotional moment where we say, “Oh, my God, the world is going down. I didn’t get the job I wanted,” saying, “What would I tell a friend now?” And the friend probably usually would say, “Hey, look, that’s really not nice but, actually, hey, have you considered XYZ?” and really taking ourselves out of that purely emotional and into the kind of perspective, which a lot of times, then I think helps with this kind of developing grit.
And I think Adam Grant has done some amazing work around this. I highly recommend it for everyone to check out around grit, resilience, and perseverance.
Got you. Thank you. Well, Christian, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
Yeah, I think, look, at the end of the day, serendipity is about potentiality. It’s about, “What could be?” And I’m a big fan, there’s this amazing organization that’s in Cape Flats in Cape Town.
I went there around a decade ago for the first time. I went in there and I was like, “What is the one question I should never ask you? I come into your context here but what should I never ask you?” And they were like, “Never ask us first question, ‘What do you need?’ because if you ask us, ‘What do you need?’ you put us into this weird role of, like, someone who needs something, a victim, a beneficiary, whatever it is, versus asking, ‘What’s already here? And how can we make the best out of this?’”
And so, that really shaped my perspective in terms of how people, even in the most resource-constrained of environments, want to create their own luck. It’s not about saying, “I’m just waiting for resources here,” and I think a lot of times we have this reflex, “Hey, here, here is some money, here is this. Like, let’s apply for a budget or a grant.” But actually, that dignity that comes from creating your own luck is really at the core of this.
And so, this organization, what they do is they go into different contexts and they ask, “What is already here and how can we make the best out of it? Oh, there’s a former drug dealer. Interesting. That person has a lot of creativity, that person has a lot of contexts, so if we can turn them into a teacher, it becomes cool now to be a teacher. If we look at an old garage, we can look at a potential training center.”
And so, the point here is that we start connecting the dots differently once we get away from looking at resource constraints and the things we don’t have and into the potentiality of it. And so, it’s a lot of banks and others now who apply exactly that thinking. Imagine you’re organizing an event at your company, and you write your budget, and you’re like, “Oh, I need 20 chairs for this event.” Well, what this organization would do, they would first ask you, “Well, do you really need the chairs or can people stand, whatever it is? If you need them, can you ask the restaurant next door, if they can borrow you the chairs, which might also nicely kind of give you some new contacts there, whatever it is. And only if you say no to all of these things, then go ahead with it.”
And what happens a lot of times is that we’re like, “Oh, my God, we don’t even need all this budget. We can make stuff happen much more resourceful than we thought.” And that’s where serendipity starts to happen because we get away from thinking about budget constraints, and things that don’t work, and scarcity, and really think about more, “Wow, what could be in this situation already? And maybe I have more here than I think I have, more kind of context than I thought I had, more kind of resources than I thought I had.”
Yeah, that’s exciting and, yeah, it makes kind of sense that when you…I think I remember from like a college psychology class, there’s a name for this, being fixated on the lack versus what you have. There’s a name for it. Do you know the psychological term here?
Well, I think it’s a lot around framing. Like, essentially, how do we reframe a situation? And I think that goes very deeply into psychology. How do we essentially understand that’s it’s not about resource scarcity always? I think it’s, actually, you know what was really interesting, I had a couple of conversations recently with psychologists.
And for them, actually, the mindset is interesting because they’re saying it helps us to get away a little bit from the anxiety, from the feeling that we’re losing control because, actually, maybe there’s something in there that still helps us. And so, I think, to your point, I think there’s a lot of psychological linkages there, I think, all in terms of, “How do we approach life and see less scarcity and more as abundance?”
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
My absolute favorite is a Goethe quote. I grew up in Heidelberg, and there’s this Philosopher’s Way where Goethe wrote some of his poems. And he had this idea that if you take someone as they are, you make them worse, but if you take them as who they could be, you’ll make them capable of becoming who they can be.
And that’s, actually, Viktor Frankl took that idea at some point, and he talked about it in the context of a flight instructor. The flight instructor told him, “Well, Viktor, if you want to fly like this or just a little bit up, you always need to start a little bit higher than you want to fly because the wind will always pull you down.” So, if you start as a realist, you end up as a depressionist, but if you start as an optimist, you end up as the real realist.
And Goethe’s point really was to say, “If we always see a little bit more in the moment than there is that meets the eye, we start seeing serendipity happen after and after and after and after again.” And I think that’s also what good leadership is about. Good leadership is about looking at a former drug dealer and not seeing just a former drug dealer. It’s about looking at them and saying, “Wow, you could be a teacher,” “Wow, you could be XYZ,” and then people start also seeing it themselves and seeing other potentialities as well. So, I would probably quote Goethe in that regard.
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
Well, one absolute favorite is about rabbits. So, essentially, a couple of decades ago, two researchers at approximately the same time, they were injecting rabbits with a protein, with papain, and the rabbits’ ears flopped. And both of them saw that, that the flop was surprising, it was interesting, but only one of them followed up on it, and only one of them went through and realized, “Oh, wow, that has to do with bloodstream. It has to do with the blood flowing better.” And then that led to amazing arthritis and other medications and got a lot of prizes.
And, to me, that has always been a beautiful example of how we can really understand serendipity and how we can understand the kind of effect of this. What could have happened had the person acted versus not? So, in this moment, it’s really the one person acted on that unexpected thing, connected the dots, did something with it, versus the other had the same thing happen but they didn’t. And so, it’s similar to what we talked about earlier, these other experiments that are about you can give people exactly the same situation but the way they react to it and what they do with it will lead to extremely different results.
And so, I think that, to me, is always, as an academic, I’m always thinking about, “What are science-based ways that we can understand serendipity?” And one is really about tracing back different types of decisions, and then saying, “Oh, this decision unfolds differently because of that and that action.”
And how about a favorite book?
Oh, my favorite book, definitely Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This book is next to my bedside table. I’ve been re-reading it so many times and, essentially, the core idea is that he was in a concentration camp, which, as you can imagine, is the toughest of environments that one could ever be in. You’re being stripped of any dignity that you’ve ever had.
And he said, “Look, but I still can do something here. I can still…” He had this idea of, “I can still converse with other prisoners every day. And by making them feel better about life in general, I have some kind of meaning here. I can still write this book after I come out here.” And so, he had this duality of meaning, this kind of meaning in the day-to-day that he built, and this meaning of, “I still want to do this later.”
And so, I found that in my work to be extremely effective to have this idea that you both have something that’s in the day-to-day that gives those meaning but also something to look forward to that gives us a broader meaning.
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
That’s a good question. Probably the coffee machine. I need a lot of coffee.
All right. And a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you frequently?
It’s probably a lot around that idea that comes back to Viktor Frankl, that we cannot always choose a situation or a stimulus, but we can always choose our response to it. And so, that is really our agency, that is where our growth comes from, that’s where our freedom comes from. And so, really, this idea that no matter what situation we’re in, there’s always something we can still do even if it seems powerless.
And so, I think that’s very…something that I think resonates particularly, I think, in tough, I mean, during COVID periods like now. I had COVID last year, the severe form of it, and it’s the kind of period where you just feel complete despair, I just feel like, “Oh, my God, what is this all about?” And then this idea of, “How do you still find some kind of meaning in some way?” And I think that is a lot around this, “How do we respond to stimuli that we didn’t choose?”
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
It’s on Twitter @ChrisSerendip, and the homepage is SerendipityMindset.com.
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Yeah, I would really suggest set up a serendipity journal where you write down, “What are the key themes, three key themes, interests, you have at the moment?” And then, every conversation you have during the next days and weeks, seed a little bit into this and just see what happens when people start connecting the dots for you.
And then doing the same for kind of like the self-limiting beliefs, so really saying, in those moments when you’re out there, where you feel something could’ve happened but it didn’t, “What seems to be the pattern behind this?” Really writing this down and then seeing what it is. And I think what you’ll see is that it’s very relieving to then kind of start tackling this and seeing how many, how much multiplication that has in that area as well.
Well, Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you many serendipitous moments in the future.
Thank you so much.