As just how lucky are you, look at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, are they both just the beneficiary of Serendipitous type circumstances? So much of life is still left to the luck of the draw, like with Marlin Monroe’s story of being at just the right street corner soda shop, at just the right time. Also what about all the inventions which just seemed to happen by accident such as our friend the Aspirin, insulin, Viagra, penicillin, antihistamines and the smallpox vaccine, Scotchgard, Teflon, Velcro, Nylon, Ivory Soap, the Post-It note, and the list keeps going. While seeking something else, someone found something new and was bright enough to seize the moment.
What is also worth looking at is the history of the “word” Serendipity as the popularized form of the word we know today comes from a 1754 story retold by Horace Walpole, of an old Arab tale where one fine day, Three Princes from Serendip (known today as Sri Lanka) were sent afield by their father for a lengthy journey to seek out worldly experiences. However misfortune soon befell the trio of princes when happening upon a camel driver who inquired about a lost camel. Though the princes had never seen the humped animal, they were nonetheless able to describe it in detail as it was blind in one eye, lacking a tooth, and also lame in one leg. Furthermore, the camel which they described in detail was carrying butter on its right and honey on the left side. Shocked that their description was so accurate the camel owner accused the princes of thievery having stolen his camel, formally charging them in the emperor’s court.
Yet, in the presence of Emperor Behram, the facts became clear that the princes were entirely innocent, having merely pieced together observations made while walking in the desert. The princes explained that they thought the camel to be blind in the right eye because the grass which they had passed had been cropped only on the left side of the road. They then too inferred the animal was missing a tooth from the bits of chewed grass which were scattered across the road. Its footprints seemed to also suggest that the animal was lame in a leg as it was dragging one foot in the sand. Finally, finding ants on one side of the road and flies on the other, they concluded that the camel must have been carrying butter on the ant’s side, and honey on its other.
As we see from the story, the princes did far more than simply make chance observations as the tale is instructive as the princes relied on their ability to recombine a series of casual observations into something which turned out to be meaningful information. As it was this “combinatorial skill” or the rote ability to combine events or observations in “meaningful ways”. It’s here that serendipity separates its self from that of pure blind luck as “Serendipity” is the ability to see meaningful combinations where others only see shuffled sand in a sea of desert and ragged grass with various insects about.
Many times we see the world as a random place, yet hidden in what we might see as chaos is really a diamond simply waiting to be discovered…