Hello, Good Planner! Do you have time for Serendipity?

Planning is something we do all the time. Amidst the planning and keeping that control, some little space must be given to the power of serendipity.

We like to plan. We are told planning is a good thing, and we must keep making new plans and keep updating our old ones.

We plan a project, we plan a meeting, we plan a pitch, we plan future goals, we plan about how to reach our present goals and we plan our career. We plan a holiday, we plan our ‘me’ time. We do short-term planning, and we do long-term planning.

In all this planning, life happens to us. As the famous line by the famous John Lennon goes:

Life is what happens when you are making other plans…

Planning is good. It helps us remain secure and prepared. It’s a necessary activity which enables us to develop foresight and become good managers and leaders. It ensures a workable structure for the times when we might not know what to do, or when life throws its surprises at us. When we plan, we are being prepared for everything and anything.  

In all this pressure to plan and be prepared, we sometimes forget to keep a little breathing space. A little breathing space for serendipity.

What is serendipity?

Serendipity is when the unexpected works in just the right way. Some people call it a ‘happy coincidence’. Sometimes the events- unexpected ones -work out themselves without you having to do any planning.

Think of all those times when you gifted the exact thing the person needed without really knowing that the person indeed was looking for the very thing you gifted them.

The times when you were wondering how to contact a client and you received a connection invite from them instead.

The times when you may have chosen a different route for your commute and ended up having the client you were supposed to give a pitch to be your co-passenger. 

These are some very simple examples, but serendipity can work out in much more complex ways, and that is where the need to keep that space for it to act out comes in. Serendipity works when we keep that 1% space for the events to unfold themselves. We have to let the ideas unfold themselves. After a point, there’s a only so much planning one can do. The wisdom of sitting back and letting it unfold comes in handy.

Letting the Ideas Unfold on their Own:

A little insight from Paul Graham who wears multiple caps of an essayist, computer scientist, venture capitalist, investor and entrepreneur:

‘The best new ideas always have unanticipated benefits.’

In other words, after a point, we must let serendipity do its job.

Good planning is necessary. We should try our best to chart out a good plan with all the contingencies but once an optimum level of planning has been achieved, we should just let things unfold on their own. Overplanning is the enemy here: planning too much leaves no space for improvising, adapting and things to fall into place. It leaves no space to change tracks or put on the brakes. Overplanning can make ideas crash.

How to let serendipity do its job?

Plan but don’t over-plan: If you have ten steps charted out, but the eleventh step seems tricky, let it be, and let the ten steps do their work onto the eleventh step.

Be open to experiences: If a situation is not working the way you want it to work, and there’s nothing you can do about it, be open to the supposedly different situation that seems to be unfolding. Say for example, if your interview or the client meeting did not go according to the plan, be curious and see what could happen next, instead of trying fruitless damage control measures like frantic calling or emailing for a fixed result. The ‘alternate’ results might surprise you, pleasantly.

A job you thought you would hate but ended up genuinely enjoying? A situation you thought had failed but once you gave up control, solved itself? Yes, that is serendipity doing its work.

Fostering Creativity at Workplace

creativity at workplace image

Quick! Think about a place where creativity would be encouraged and nurtured. Did you envision an art studio, a theatre, or maybe a child’s playroom? All those places come to mind pretty easily, but I’m willing to bet there’s one place that didn’t, and that’s the workplace.

This little excerpt from an article by allbusiness.com is a great way to start to think about creativity at workplace. We seldom associate being creative with our regular 9 to 5 jobs. In fact, we often have the opposite thought process, so much so, that the idea of a 9 to 5 job itself has become a metaphor for plain work, full of drudgery, boring, mechanical, where everyone lives for the weekend.

‘I beg to differ!’ says creativity.

Creativity is something that can, and is often used in traditional workplaces as well, with great results, once we understand the definition of creativity beyond its typical notion. Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean having the best aesthetic sense which might allow you to make pretty PPTs, or a cool, colourful workspace.

Summed up well by the article cited above, creativity at workplace implies “creative thinking and creative problem solving.” A more nuanced definition of creativity is all about thinking of various solutions, taking steps which:  

  • Involve risk taking and shaking the status quo.
  • Involve accepting the failures that come with risk, moving quickly past them by learning from them and then going right into the next solution.
  • Involve viewing constraints as a way to overcome a problem.
  • Involve finding new connections for a solution to a problem.

So, the thing is, anyone can be creative!

So, what can we do as employees and employers to foster creativity among us? The following points from an article will also give a clearer understanding of creativity and how it has been used beyond theatres and canvases.

Telling the Brain What to do:

Turns out, we have scientific research telling us the optimal neurological condition to think creatively. Neuroscientist Brigid Schulte in her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time tells us that we are most creative/active when our brains are ‘idle’, ‘at leisure.’ It is at these moments that our ‘default mode network’ or DMN lights up, and like ‘airport hubs’ that connect the various parts of the airports, the networks in our brain which don’t typically connect can be connected, leading to us being able to see novel links between a variety of ideas. This ability to see unlikely links between ideas is what drives creativity.  Thus, “…a stray thought, a random memory, an image can combine in novel ways to produce novel ideas.”

The way to bring the mind to this relaxed state consciously is to obviously engage in quick activities that relax your brain.

Where Else:

Another way to foster creativity while looking for solutions is to ask ‘where else?’ This will ensure you see beyond the boundaries, so as mentioned earlier, your constraints become your starting points. As the article sums up, questions such as these can help one look beyond our immediate focus area, which ultimately leads to creative problem solving:

  •  Where else has someone already solved the challenge that I’ve been tasked with?
  • Where else do we see the enthusiasm we want our clients or audience to have?
  • Where else in nature or society does the interaction I’m trying to replicate occur?

The article further gives us an example of how this was applied by a brand tasked with redesigning optimal gear for Olympic swimmers. The company asked ‘where else in nature do objects move quickly and efficient in water?’; they successfully formed a novel connection between nature and fabrics. By asking ‘where else?” they found their inspiration in nature, and thus used fabrics that resembled shark-skin patterns, which dramatically improved the swimmers’ efficiency.

This was a great example of divergent thinking; in other words, finding new connections.


And finally, creativity is also about reframing tasks. Reframing something allows us to turn something supposedly bland and boring into something refreshing and interesting.

Take for example how Disney changed the experience of their guests. We know of Disneyland as a place of carnival, fun and entertainment, and it is the ultimate benchmark for any amusement park to meet. What is it about its model that makes it different from other amusements parks? Or to be more specific, what is it that Disneyland did that set the tone for most amusement parks of the future?

 When Disneyland first opened in 1955, it reframed some aspects of business, thereby redefining the entertainment and hospitality industry itself. “Customers” became “guests,” “employees” became “cast members,” “uniforms” became “costumes,” and so on. “This reframing of the park’s seemingly simple elements set an entirely different tone — one that asked employees not to work, but to entertain, and one that asked customers not to buy a product, but participate in an experience. By doing so, Disney redefined the entertainment and hospitality industry.”

This is a great example of risk-taking, shaking the status quo. The lack of a fear of failure is inherent in most these examples.

To sum it all up, what employers can do to foster creativity amongst employees beyond creating a ‘fun and creative’ stereotypical Google-like office-space is to:

  • Recognise ideas and create an atmosphere where one can freely communicate new and seemingly unconventional ideas and solutions.
  • Make it clear that negative feedback doesn’t mean that the idea needs to be discarded but that it simply needs some redirection.
  • Communicate that anyone can be creative, and creativity is not just limited to the conventional performing and fine arts.

What an employee can do to foster creativity is to:

  • Again, realise that anyone can be creative, and not be afraid to look beyond one’s traditional field boundaries.
  • Not be afraid that your idea might get rejected, and realise there’s a lot more one can think of.
  • Not to get bogged down by setbacks or seemingly negative feedback.