Has anyone experienced serendipity
The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Happiness
On medium.com I have an interview by Jason Hartmann (author and speaker) with Prof. Dr. Christian Busch discovered. Hartmann interviewed him as part of his series on the "Five things you need to be a highly effective leader in turbulent times".
I have translated it for you here:
Dr. Busch is a professor at New York University (NYU) where he leads the CGA Global Economy Program and teaches on focused leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship. He is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) and author of The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Good Luck.
Jason Hartmann: Thank you very much for your time! I know you are a very busy person. Our readers would like to get to know you a little better ”. Can you tell us a little bit about your "history" and how you started?
Prof. Busch: Thank you for letting me be there! I had an experience early on in life that made me realize how quickly life can be over (a car accident) - which made me want to do something in life, find some kind of meaning in the face of how short it can be. I started reading Viktor Frankl's Search for Meaning - and was impressed with the idea of finding meaning in a crisis, no matter what situation we are in. On this trip I realized that what I enjoy most is connecting points - between people, between ideas - and seeing the sparks, joy and meaningful change that can result from them. I started out as a community builder and (social) entrepreneur and then went more and more into research. What I found fascinating was that the most successful, determined people around me seemed to have something in common:
They were able to see something in the unknown and turn the unexpected into positive results. People around her would say, "They are just a little luckier than others". In short, they intuitively cultivated serendipity, that “intelligent happiness” that depends on how we react to the unexpected (rather than the “blind happiness” that just happens to us). That fascinated me - and the question of what a scientifically sound framework for the cultivation of Serendipity could look like. Out of this fascination emerged The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Good Luck - a scientifically based concept that integrates knowledge from the social and natural sciences, inspiring stories from all over the world and concrete exercises that help us, both as a philosophy of life as well as developing as a daily practice.
Can you tell us a story about the funniest mistake you made in the beginning when you started? Can you tell us what lessons or take aways you have learned from it?
Oh, there are so many! One of them that shaped me was in the early days of my first company. About 12 years ago when it was mostly an idea I went to a conference of HR executives. I was there as a speaker to “inspire the audience with a new perspective”. I went on stage and talked about our dreams, ambitions and how they would change the world. Then I went back to my table. The man next to me just said, “Come to me in two months, if the company is broke and you need a job, then I'll hire you.” I asked him what he meant by that; he said, "See, you are smart and energetic, but you talk about all of these ideas without understanding how the world and business really work."
What I learned at the time is that it is important to have a "sense of reality" - in a sense, to acknowledge that the world is tough, etc. - in order to pick people up, especially when it comes to new ideas. Otherwise it just sounds naive and dreamy. I still believe that most people are “inspired” most of the time, that no one has thought everything through. But I have realized that I have to package my optimism more according to the motto “I know that things are difficult, that's why we need ...”. As someone who has seen many losses and defeats over the course of their life, I've become more realistic about what we can and can't influence - but when it comes to the parts we can influence, I believe given all the cynicism in the world still that you have to start as an optimist to end as a realist.
None of us are able to succeed without some help along the way. Is there a specific person you are grateful to who helped you get to where you are now? Can you tell a story?
I was very fortunate to always have people around me who inspired me, but if I had to choose one person (besides my nice and loving parents, of course!) It would be Harry Barkema, the director of the London Innovation Center School of Economic. Before I met Harry, I thought I could combine entrepreneurship and academic work and basically just split my time between the two by building businesses and doing research at the same time. Harry made it clear to me that even if I wanted to build a “portfolio” of activities, I had to commit myself to an “anchor identity” - otherwise I would never be credible to either side, science or science Practice. It was a difficult identity finding process - but the decision to get rooted in science, in evidence-based knowledge, and then make an impact from there was one of the best decisions I've made so far - it allowed me to define my niche as " to find the serendipity type 'that is ingrained in research but working with companies to actually make it happen.
Have you ever thought of giving up? Where do you get the motivation to get through your challenges? What keeps your drive going?
Much of my life has been shaped by moments of crisis / desperation. At the moment these situations were often horrific, but in the long run they mostly had the “death is the greatest motivator in life” effect on me. When I had a severe form of COVID-19 in March (life in NYC has its downsides!), I resorted to Viktor Frankl's "Search for Meaning". It was a great reminder that we can find meaning in a crisis and that we are often more resilient than we think. The idea - that we have to try to make sense of even the most difficult of situations - accepts the current situation as dire. It doesn't paint her rosier than she is. But it also says, let's see where we can find meaning and do something about the situation. That is our answer to these situations, we have the freedom to choose. Other things that usually help me maintain my drive are having "people of good energy" around me; to meditate; and take the long-term perspective (“What will really be important in 20 years?”).
What would you say is the most important role a manager plays in challenging times?
The most successful leaders (and organizations) I have studied and worked with actively develop mindsets and practices that enhance their ability to navigate the unknown - and cultivate serendipity. What do you mean with that? Serendipity is about unplanned positive results that occur because we “see” something in the unexpected and associate it with something relevant. Our research on inspiring leaders, organizations, and business incubators shows that there are simple ways we can build a muscle for the unexpected that enables us to create that “smart happiness” such as: For example, developing a sense of direction while preparing for the unexpected, or placing and raising bets. Applying a serendipity mentality allows us to let go of the old illusion of control that is drummed into us in the schools of this world and that tells us we can plan anything - and instead helps us transform the unexpected from a threat into a potential Transform allies.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The most successful leaders in our research (including a study of 31 of the world's most successful CEOs) don't pretend they can plan anything - instead, they have a strong compass and are prepared for the unexpected. While they often feel the pressure to convey that “everything is under control”, they know that they are not always in control. Once we let go of the illusion that we can control everything, serendipity, innovation and creative solutions become possible. For example, in a financial services company, the overall vision was to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty - a key solution to this came unexpectedly from conversation because people knew what to look out for. Or take former Unilever CEO Paul Polman: he's taking on a variety of projects that have come to him unexpectedly, but ponders how they fit his goal of helping people who cannot help themselves.
Having a sense of direction - like some kind of principle or north star or purpose - enables us to deal with the unexpected and filter the things that might be a distraction. In companies, we can take a larger problem (e.g. in connection with the Sustainable Development Goals or a current crisis such as COVID-19) and relate it to our core competencies.
Rather than pretending that we have everything under control - and that unexpected solutions mean a loss of control - cultivating Serendipity is actually about gaining control over uncertainty. Then we can all be more truthful about how things actually happen: As Harvard's Leith Sharp would say, life is more of a squiggle than a straight line, even if we tell it as if it were a straight line. Legitimizing this in companies is an important step when it comes to sharing knowledge, building trust - and understanding what it means to be human.
Can you name the most common mistake you've seen other companies make during difficult times? What should you watch out for to avoid this?
Holding on to an illusion of control: We all tend to make plans and develop strategies, but the reality is that our lives are often shaped by the unexpected, especially during challenging times. If we pretend to have everything under control, we miss opportunities hidden in the unexpected. Understandably, there is a human tendency to try to control everything. But in times of uncertainty there are many things we cannot control - and we might as well focus our energies on what we can control. Turning our fear and anxiety into a meaningful effort. It will become a new normal, at least in the short term, that we will have more questions than answers - and we will have to get used to it. We're going to have to let go of some things that we took for granted. The question is not how we cope with the uncertainty, but how we can navigate the unknown in a hopeful way - by building a muscle for the unexpected.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experiences and successes, what are the five most important things a leader should do to lead effectively in uncertain and turbulent times? Please provide a story or example for each point.
1) Focus on the possibilities, not the limits.As soon as we stop looking at things like budget constraints as a problem and instead try to make the most of the available resources, the most creative (and random) solutions emerge. Reconstructed Living Labs, for example, developed an educational method for low-income earners that enables people to develop their own skills, businesses and platforms. The team's key question when entering a new, resource-poor community is not, “What resources are needed?” Or, worse, “How can we help?” (This question poses the locals as beneficiaries or even “victims” and often encourages a passive mentality. Instead, they try to use and supplement the existing resources by looking at them from a new perspective, when we look at the world less in terms of resource requirements and more in terms of creative solutions to our problems When we inspire this throughout our organization, opportunities arise in the unexpected places.
2) Use the unexpected to shape the corporate culture.The unexpected can be an excuse to rethink how we approach work and how we approach life. It can also be an effective way to manifest company culture and values. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Best Buy had to make difficult decisions - they acted on their values by working with staff and local communities to help them, even if it had a negative impact on bottom line in the short term. In the long term, it has significantly increased customer loyalty, employee retention and productivity. People felt that the company acted on the basis of real values. The then CEO Hubert Joly is right when he says that our reaction to the unexpected defines who we are. Times of crisis bring out the best or the worst in people - and often differentiate real executives from the rest. People will still ask for years to come how executives acted during this time of crisis. This can be a great opportunity to really commit to your values and develop a really meaningful company culture.
3) Ask questions differently:In a study we conducted with 31 of the world's top CEOs, we found that one of the things that many of them have in common is that they keep asking "why". This allows them to question assumptions and identify problems early on. It is the “we cannot know everything and we have to constantly reevaluate” thinking. As soon as we start asking why, we open our horizons - and unexpected problems (and solutions) often arise. In a broader sense, we can use the way we ask questions as a trigger for serendipity to come to new insights and solutions, and spread this across an organization. Imagine you are at a (virtual) conference and get to know a new person. Many of us may go on autopilot and ask the dreaded, “What are you doing?” This tends to put the other person in a box that is difficult to get out of. Positioning yourself for intelligent happiness means asking more open questions such as “What was the most interesting thing about ...?” Or “What is your state of mind?” Such questions open up conversations that can lead to amazing - and often happy coincidences. We can also set serendipity hooks and cast our net wide. The point is to create memorable or captivating points of conversation - to open us up to serendipity. If someone asks entrepreneur Oli Barrett the dreaded question, “What are you doing?”, The answer would be something like: “I love connecting, started a business in education, recently started thinking about philosophy, but what I really enjoy is playing the piano. ”He gives us four“ hooks ”that allow others to pick the hook that relates to their life and makes serendipity more likely to happen - like,“ Oh, what a coincidence, I just opened a philosophy salon, let's talk! ”If we do this over conversations, serendipity starts to happen.
4) convey a sense of belonging:In a physically distant world, companies are one of the few places where people can connect with others. Organizations may consider introducing processes and rituals such as “social roulette” or “random coffee attempts,” where people who do not know each other are randomly brought together within the organization. An inspirational request can trigger a meaningful conversation - and often leads to “aha experiences” and the feeling that you are not alone. It is the opportunity to develop effective communities - now more virtual than physical - that help us connect and make (more) meaningful connections. This crisis can help us to get closer (as colleagues, as new acquaintances, etc.) because we share a common fear, a common "enemy". It's an opportunity to connect and connect more deeply and meaningfully. It reminds us of the essence of what is important in life, including the importance of meaningful connection.
5) Cultivate Serendipity Spotting.In a rapidly changing world, new ideas and solutions have to come from every corner of an organization and beyond. How can we create incentives for this? For one thing, companies have built in practices such as asking in meetings whether team members encountered anything surprising last week, and if so, what we can learn from it. This often requires the psychological security to get people to say something - for example in a very creative company the executives frame the conversation with the thought that most ideas are bad at the beginning. Then "imperfect" ideas, solutions or processes are used as ways of continuous learning. When we allow employees to speak openly about ideas that didn't work and what they learned from them, we “normalize” the idea that experimentation is often the core of survival in times of uncertainty - and often to one effective knowledge exchange.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven companies” are more successful in many areas. What did you find out in your work?
“There is a space between stimulus and reaction. In this space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. Our reaction lies in our growth and our freedom. ”In my life I have had the experience that, despite all the planning, the unexpected has usually shaped most of it. One of the reasons I wrote The Serendipity Mindset was because I was intrigued by the question of how we build a muscle for the unexpected that helps us turn it into positive results. In a rapidly changing world, we often do not know what kind of solutions and contributions we will need tomorrow. Then, to use the words of Tom Linebarger, CEO of Cummins, we need to cultivate serendipity as an active approach to leading in times of uncertainty.
Here you can see the work of Prof. Dr. Follow Christian Busch further
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