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ABILITIES NEEDED TO BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SERENDIPITY

Chance is an event, serendipity is a capability.52

In "the science of serendipity, luck can be 'caught,' corralled, coached, and created."53 For organizational leaders to leverage unexpected information, the capability of doing so must exist. This is the arena where education, training, and building of skills are most likely and most promising. Scientists training students routinely discuss the importance of looking for unexpected findings, following paths that peak curiosity and may (or may not) have potential payoff.54 In this section, we discuss the broad categories of skills that individuals need so they may develop the ability to notice and take advantage of unsought information or events. The skills fall roughly into three broad groupings: general characteristics, those relating to openness and curiosity, and those relating to preparedness and alertness, including stage of development. Finally, we close the section with a review of the types of obstacles that can thwart the capability of serendipity.

General Characteristics

The literature suggests that individuals who possess several fundamental characteristics are more likely to be able to see and pursue serendipitous events. Four broad groups of characteristics or skills come through: (1) motivation to work hard and perform well; (2) a social network used effectively; (3) willingness to take risks; and (4) a good "grip on reality" in terms of what is possible or not in the marketplace.

First, regardless of the literature discipline—whether education, career development, or business—the research focuses on characteristics that start with the most basic, including intelligence and competence, a strong work ethic, persistence, diligence, and motivation to succeed.5 5 Next, the literature suggests that individuals who more often benefit from serendipity have strong and diverse social networks,5 6 which matches with the need for a culture that encourages cross-discipline interactions. Third, a willingness to take risks and pursue untested ideas is critical for creative ventures of any sort, and particularly with regard to unexpected events or information.57

Finally, and again critical for any endeavor where evaluation of unexpected events is necessary, it is an ability to assess "realities." In examining differences between alert and nonalert people who noticed events in the marketplace, Gaglio and Katz58 supported Kirzner's59 alertness principle in their findings that "shrewd and wise assessment of the realities" helped to encourage flashes of insights, which in turn led to identification of market opportunities. Such a grip on reality60 enhances the likelihood that an individual will notice (by being alert) and be able to assess the information or event for its possible value.

Openness and Curiosity

As we reported in the commonly told story about the three princes of Serendip, one of their foremost qualities was simple curiosity and the ability to notice.61 They were open to what they found out later were clues to a lost camel, which they had no knowledge of at the time they made their observations along the way. They simply noticed because they were curious.62

Such openness to unsought events and information has been noted in career development, even to the point where Williams et al.63 suggest that women are more open to serendipity in their careers than men. In addition, Van Andel64 includes openness and curiosity as critical factors in people who "find" serendipity. Often the curiosity is coupled with a willingness to look for the surprise or the anomaly in a situation.65 Such counterfactual thinking becomes useful later in assessment of the information or event as well.

 
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