Definition: finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for
Last weekend, I asked my family a question: “what is your favourite word?”
My wife had 3 favourites. One of those words is “serendipity”.
Side note: My 6 year old had one favourite word. “Love”. She is a genius IMHO.
This week several events occurred where I found that the word serendipity was the clearest expression of how the important people and important opportunities have come into my life.
I’m on the train to Madrid this morning, and stopped to reflect on why this word came up and why it is so relevant.
What is the difference between serendipity and luck?
…from the Merriam Webster dictionary
“There is considerable similarity between luck and serendipity, but there are also settings in which one word might be more apt than the other. Serendipity has a fairly narrow meaning, one that is concerned with finding pleasing things that one had not been looking for, while luck has a somewhat broader range (with meanings such as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity,” “success,” and “the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual”). One might easily be said to have luck that is bad, which one would not say of serendipity.”
I didn’t have it on my bucket list to do an MBA, it was someone else’s dream and they brought me along. Teaching was not something I ever imagined doing, and Brian Leggett opened that door for me. IESE now plays a huge part in my life and a huge contribution to my feeling of belonging in Spain, to contributing to society, and to developing my own reputation. Serendipity.
Vistage was not something I was looking for. I had no strategic plan that was looking for Vistage 10 years ago… I had a coffee with a friend, Verne Harnish, and he said “I think I have something for you”… and he gently pushed and encouraged me until I made a concerted effort to look at what the opportunity might mean for me. He did not just say “check this out.” He pushed me. I will always appreciate his encouragement.
EO was not something that I was looking for – I went to a lunch with a VC to get them to invest in my business… and Christopher invited me to a learning event… which led me to a 17 year participation as a member and a leader in EO.
How to Maximize Serendipity
Human relationships are the foundation of serendipity.
The more people that know who you are and what you stand for, the better.
Writing this blog and sharing my weekly youtube videos are my most powerful tools to let the world know what I stand for.
A month ago it felt like the Covid virus was losing its capacity to disrupt our well made plans… but along comes Omnicron and the maths change again.
We are living in the era of predictable unpredictability. All plans are flexible and adaptable.
It is a state of existence that puts great pressure on our mental well-being.
For two years we have lived with shifting regulations around masks, tests, travel restrictions, lockdowns and vaccine certificates. As new variants arise (and that process is guaranteed) these regulations come and go… leaving us all living in permanent limbo.
We have canceled our own travel plans at Christmas. It almost feels a relief to have clarity, even as we and our kids accept the loss of the imagined joys of Christmas presents and time playing with cousins.
A decade ago online shopping, distance learning, home office and video conferences were the stuff of sci-fi and a few techie nerds. Today they are our lives. The advances in how we use technology to allow hybrid classes in IESE and hybrid meetings in Vistage have amazed me. I believe that the rapid acceptance of technology to facilitate communication, work, teams, advances in new organisation structures, crypto (as a store of value and with NFTs as a means to distribute equity, ownership, trust or revenues over a large group) is going to open up some massive steps forward for humanity.
Healthy Humans Need Meaning
We get a lot of the meaning in our lives (in the west) from activity, from progress against plans, from the feeling of forward momentum. We can find meaning in other ways. If we are to stay sane in times of unpredictability, we need to find meaning in other ways. A daily gratitude list – “3 things I am grateful for” is a very powerful meaning and mindset shift. Setting 10-20 year goals is another way of keeping a sense of meaning (and progress) even in the face of short and medium term unpredictability.
What are the activities, conversations, focusses that give a sense of meaning to your own life?
I heard a recent Jordan Peterson video where he expounded on the concept “Choose your Hard”. This video has some of my reflections on the choice. Choosing hard today makes a difference. Not choosing hard is a choice… and it has consequences.
Author T.H. White on learning as a cure for sadness:
“The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
I recently heard Sadhguru share 3 ways that people approach life and work:
Idiot – these people don’t enjoy what they do each day
Smart – these people have created a life where they do enjoy the activity and the people that they spend time with each day
Genius – these people have learnt to love what they have to do. They know how to connect all important activity to their personal purpose and make it feel meaningful.
A couple of comments on youtube suggested that this was an “arrogant statement” and that not everybody has had access to education and opportunities. I don’t believe any of these 3 approaches are necessarily only accessed through formal education… in fact I see many well educated people from wealthy backgrounds who really struggle to get out of the “idiot” category.
Another comment on youtube suggested that we each operate at these 3 levels in different areas of our lives… it may be that you are a genius in health and exercise, but an idiot when it comes to personal finances… or a genius in your professional career and an idiot as a family member.
The route to genius involves having clarity on your purpose and a set of practices or rituals to connect necessary action to that sense of meaningful purpose.
What do you think? Where do you operate most of the time?
Whats the most important human capability for the next thirty years?
The Ability to Pay Attention
To hold your attention on what you decide is important. to stay focused as it becomes boring… and to stick with something through boredom to the insights that only emerge on the other side of boredom.
Today I am waiting to receive my first dose of the Covid vaccine. The Barcelona conference center has been turned into an industrial scale vaccine delivery system. It’s well organized and I am impressed.
Line for vaccines. A thousand people. Nine hundred face down to their screens. Fifty reading a book. Fifty looking around and seeing where they are, what’s happening and who else is here.
50 years ago information was scarce. That made it give power to those that had access.
Today information is so abundant that it gives little power. It is so abundant that it has created another scarcity: The scarcity of attention.
What is the true cost of an hour scrolling on Instagram or Facebook? The life I could have lived, the deep conversation I could have had, the goals you didn’t pursue, all the actions you didn’t take… all the possible yous you could have been… had you attended to those things.
“Attention is paid in possible futures forgone” James Williams.
They deserve a promotion because of past efforts? No.
What ideas do you have?
There is one characteristic without which you cannot be called a leader.
Followers? Yes… but what do you need to have as a leader so that others actually follow?
The Fundamental Characteristic of a Leader
You know where you are going.
…and then the power to Communicate
…and then you need to develop the ability to engage with people so that the destination becomes a shared destination.
If you can begin to paint the destination in the minds of others with stories you begin to engage not just their hands, not just their skills, but their whole self in the committed pursuit.
A Shared Vision of a Worthwhile Destination
How do you engage those around you to commit to the journey?
Don’t “motivate” people.
Figure out something that is worth doing. Figure out how it will make your life better, how it will make their lives better and how it will make society better.
Help others understand that being part of it will be better for them and their life.
How do you share this destination with others? How’s this as a script:
Let us move forward: This is a good use of our time…
Here is what is in it for me…
Here is what is in it for you…
Business as an Infinite game
Simon Sinek shares a powerful concept in his book “The Infinite Game”. He has popularised the distinction between Finite games and Infinite games.
Chess is a finite game. Soccer is a finite game. Tennis is a finite game. They each have a set of agreed rules, and a clear victory condition at which time the game ends. The objective in a finite game is to end the game as victor.
Business is not a finite game. Life is not a finite game. Leading human beings is not a finite game.
Success in life is keeping it engaging to play for all those involved (including yourself!).
A game everyone plays voluntarily is more successful than a game where some must be compelled to play.
If you are going to set up an organisation, you can compel people to perform with threats and fear. It is much more effective to engage them to play a game that is meaningful for them, and for you… and for society as a whole.
How to lead the whole Person
Imagine these two requests from a leader:
“Go home and take 4 hours to think about how you will contribute to this organisation over the next year” or
“Go home and take 4 hours to think about your life and formulate a plan for your life with this business being a part of the plan”
Which is the question of the bigger leader?
Jordan Peterson reports a 10% increase in contribution where leaders ask the 2nd question to their teams.
You want yourself and your team to see that working for you serves their higher order purpose.
If not, this is not the job for them. Help them find a place where they can serve their higher purpose.
Life is too short to figure everything out on your own.
Humans spend the years from birth to 12 learning how to survive. Our parents have a vested interest in helping us develop the Stop there: we merely survive.
We live in a highly complex society. There is intense competition for status in whatever hierarchy you compete in. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to compete or not, society and humanity are designed to compete for resources. It is not those born strong that rise to the top of status hierarchies in today’s human society. It is those who learn to use their capacities most effectively and adapt quickly to changes in the environment.
There are two ways we learn to make positive progress in this society – 1) our own experience, or 2) through the experiences of others. Our own experience is a slow and expensive way of learning.
If I am to choose to learn most effectively, through the experiences of others, I must learn the art of meaningful conversation. Through my work with Entrepreneurs’ Organisation forum and Vistage groups I have worked extensively over the last 15 years on creating the type of meaningful conversation that allows one to learn from the experiences of another.
I’m sharing 4 ideas that I took from Jordan Peterson’s book the 12 Rules for Life when I read it this year.
“Your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe”
Your knowledge is insufficient. You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of pushing opinions, convincing, oppressing, dominating or joking.
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
It is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous).
It takes conversation to organise a mind
“people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds.” The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche.
“Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own”
They say Aristotle was the last man who knew everything there was to know. Since the time of Aristotle (over 2300 years ago) society has become too complex for any one individual to know all that is known.
When I was in school, I took huge value in solving from first principles. I would prefer to solve mathematic problems from first principles and avoid using formulaic recipes that allowed you to shortcut to a solution. This was symptomatic of my whole approach to life. If I hadn’t figured it out myself, I didn’t value the knowledge. There is a heroic valor to this approach, but it is dumb heroics.
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