Monthly Archives: July 2011

I’m working on a public art project in Brisbane, Australia at the moment. We’ve been commissioned to breath new life into a series of urban thoroughfares that have recently fallen into a rather uninspiring state; Half ‘antigraffiti orange’, half hundred year old concrete bridge.

This week we’ve been on location, collecting information about how these places are used and by whom. It’s not been easy, but it has been rather promising. Almost every vistor doesn’t not stop unless they’ve dropped something – or need to tie their shoes. If we get just one person to stop after we finish – that’s a 100% improvement!

I’m interested in the significance of developing these places; for locals, tourists and the identity of the area. I’m curious about these in-between places, places that people don’t normally stop for – but sometimes pause in. In France, there is one particular example of these pause places; in Dijon. Along Rue de la chouette (Owl Street) there is – surprise – an Owl. This sculpted owl, no bigger than the size of an average hand span has become a thing of myth and local folklore. It is believed to bring good-luck to any passer by; simply if they rub the owl with their left hand while making a wish.

Testament to this belief is the Owl’s appearance….

The Owl aka La Chouette

La Chouette; ‘The Owl’ is a small carving, etched out of one flying buttresses of the Nortre Dame Cathedral in Dijion, France. It is believed to be either the trademark of a master stonemason or the cathedral’s architect – I’m not ruling out old old old school street art though… and – there appears to be no definitive source of information on the origin of this tiny sculpture – however I’m still looking…

I’m curious about these tiny adjustments – these seemingly insignificant additions to a public place that can turn walking to work into something a little more enchanting and memorable.

More of La Chouette here:

I’m interested in serendipity ~ the experience of stumbling upon something of immense value, in an unexpected or seemingly irrelevant place. I also quite like the word too – despite the ice-cream magnetized movie by the same name.

This moment of inspired discovery has long been revered in the uncontrollable realm of fate  and luck, even it’s word suggests something of a magical quality. But increasingly, serendipity is creeping into our day to day lives in a number of different ways. Apple, Netflix and Amazon are a couple of widely cited examples; offering their users recommendations based on previous purchasing decisions and user records. The value of this is fairly self-explanatory – but analytical recommendations are still confined to logical reasoning; if you liked that, then you’ll like this. 

In a slightly less enchanting way – insurance companies are hard at work trying to analyse the likelihood of your serendipitous encounters with their bottom lines

The problem is… Human’s aren’t calculators 

I’m interested in curating serendipity. I want to know what the conditions that turn a seemingly random encounter into something ultimately valuable are. I’m curious to see whether it is possible to put in place guides or structure that promote these serendipitous encounters.

At the heart of this idea is value.  How it’s created, and what people get from it. But I believe that real serendipity is something a little more than just value. It relies on an understanding of what direction you’re travelling in at the time of the encounter, a sticky problem at work, perhaps even a idea that you’ve had bubbling away for a new flavour of ice cream.

Real serendipity is a deep seated idea, hunch or feeling responding to external stimulus that may have existed in your network for years, but you seemed to just bump into it by chance. We always know serendipity once we’ve encountered it, but predicting it is something of a grey area.

However it does push the case that if we know it when we see it, serendipity is essentially visual. We experience serendipity, because suddenly connected the dots between our sticky problem, and our random chance encounter.

But – if our brains are essentially just awesome pattern detectors – the idea of serendipity becomes even less enchanting (maybe we are calculators after all)

So – can you curate it?

Discovr use a recommendation style with a twist – the added feature being a visual network that links up your recommendations in a glance-able and scalable way; stronger connections, tight knit clusters.

At a more structural level – behind the scenesPageRank and it’s cousin EdgeRank are constantly plotting out the relevance of our enquiries and relationships, a good visual example (though not as practical) is LinkedIn’s In Maps.  Beyond that – PeerIndex, Klout and others are working away at understanding the way we share as nodes in our networks. Soon we’ll be meeting Likeness a subjective search engine.

But does understanding what we share, with whom and how frequently get us any closer to showing us exactly what we didn’t know we were looking for?

I believe that curating serendipity is about enabling people to see the connections between their interests, ideas, exisiting work, relationships and resources – and connect the dots for themselves, a few steps ahead. Serendipity factors might one day become part of scenario planning?  

I’m curious about the impact curating serendipitous encounters will have on inspiration and productivity. If we can curate it, will we all be better off? Or ultimately distracted in a permanent spin-cycle of discovery?