Chance and the prepared leader

Alexander Fleming knew all about serendipity. How the Scottish biologist discovered penicillin was a classic ‘happy accident’.  Cleaning up his laboratory one day, Fleming found a glass plate that had been coated with staphyloccus bacteria as part of research he was doing. The plate had a ring pattern and mould on it – penicillium notatum. Fleming’s conclusion: the mould had produced a substance that had killed some of the bacteria. Thus emerged one of the world’s most powerful antibiotics and a place in history for Fleming. While serendipity has long been accepted in science and technology circles, most corporate leaders have baulked at the challenge of creating and maintaining the physical and cultural conditions conducive to happy accidents. In The Power of Pull, John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison devote an entire chapter to serendipity. “Being in the right place at the right time is not a new concept…but is a fortuitous encounter that leads to a new business contract luck?” the authors ask. “While chance is an intrinsic element of serendipity, we believe that you can significantly alter the probability and quality of the unexpected encounters in our lives.” Their tips: make better choices around where and how we spend our time, and how we maximise the value of an unexpected encounter. An international project run by the Management Innovation eXchange goes one step further and lists serendipity as one of 12 new management principles for the new age. “Organisations could use a lot more … productive happenstance,” says project leader, Polly LaBarre. “This is a habit you can cultivate as an individual and leader, trying to get people out of their comfort zone, out from behind their desk, and mix it up with elements who aren’t like them.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *