Serendipity and Children

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As seems to be the way with these blogs, I’m writing about something I’ve recently read and would like to share. In this case, it all started with my 16-year-old daughter who was excited to share some very “cool” websites, cartoons and other Internet content she had discovered using Stumbleupon (

Curious, I went to Stumbleupon and signed up myself. The usual interests… Business, Entrepreneurship, Renewable Energy, Classic Rock, etc. You know what I’m talking about. Sure enough, after a few clicks and some interesting reading, I stumbled upon The Economist’s “More Intelligent” and an article by Ian Leslie entitled: “In Search of Serendipity”.

According to Wikipedia: “Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate…”

Ian asserts that perhaps the Internet and search engines, in their quest for providing us with efficiency and relevance, are leading us away from unique discovery that was one of the original purposes of the Internet in the first place.

Google gives us the most relevant responses to our inquiries, Amazon tracks our preferences and “recommends” literature, and even Stumbleupon has a like and dislike selection so that it can better find sites you will enjoy. While all of these tools are designed to make our experience more relevant and enjoyable, we will enjoy significantly fewer happy accidents and pleasant surprises. It then follows that we may be missing opportunities in business as well. How many wonderful inventions have been discovered serendipitously? How many entrepreneurs were inspired by a happy accident to create world class companies?

Some of the best known accidental discoveries include: Alexander Flemming’s discovery of penicillin; Post-it Notes; Viagra; Popsicles; artificial sweeteners; Teflon; and microwave ovens. Serendipity also plays a role in business as we enjoy the sometimes unexpected benefits from a business strategy, acquisition or purchase. It’s also an important factor in Competitive Intelligence and a tool for avoiding Blindspots.

But aren’t we allowing our media, through the selection of relevant information for us in its most efficient form, to create new Blindspots and limit the creative discovery process? For myself, I’m going to continue to seek information and dig below the headlines and opinions of other writers. I’m also going to resist the urge to tell Stumbleupon what I like and dislike as I spend a few minutes each day randomly bouncing around seeking new ideas and of course content for this blog.


About the Author:

Michael Steele holds more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, consultant and a senior executive. He focuses on strategic and business development, business analysis, organizational systems, and marketing-communications with proven success in business start-ups and turnaround situations.

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