Curating Serendipity

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?

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