Serendipity in action

Serendipity. In the simplest of words, it means a “happy accident” (Wikipedia).

Earlier this week, I was thinking about serendipity, spurred by a thoughtful blog post by Matthew Ingram on filters, and how some feel that the digital filters being developed by the likes of Google and Facebook are limiting our ability to serendipitously discover new sources of information, leading to an echo chamber.

Now, I don’t argue that the development of an echo chamber is a danger when we are left to autonomously construct our own networks, but I do think that by having a well developed network we actually create more opportunities for serendipitous moments that are much more relevant to us.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/clintlalonde/status/75776840031154176″]

Here’s a story.

About a week ago,  Rodd Lucier passed my name on to a M.Ed getting ready to hike up the thesis mountain. Rodd is familiar with my thesis research on the role that Twitter plays in PLN among educators, and knew that this student might be interested in doing similar research, so he made the connection. This morning I had a Skype call with this student & we discussed our mutual research interests.

Part of the conversation revolved around tweets, and the level of depth contained in 140 characters. It sounds so small. 140 characters. Yet within those 140 characters a lot can happen.

When I first started considering doing research on Twitter, I wanted to do a content analysis of tweets. But, as I played with the Twitter api and began trying to figure out ways of mining Twitter data against a backdrop where Twitter changed the rules each week on how and who can access their data, I dropped the idea. I didn’t want to have my thesis depend on data that I couldn’t be sure I could access. As a result, I decided to move into a more qualitative realm with my research. While I was somewhat disappointed at the time, in the end I am happy with the way I did my research and have ended up with something that, I think, is much more interesting than my original idea. However, there is still something I find so appealing about deconstructing a tweet because I think that so much depth can be packed away within that small package. The simple act of including a link to something else that is much more in depth truly belies the defined nature of a tweet.

So, back to the conversation, which included a bit of this type of discussion on the nature of depth represented in a single tweet. The conversation ends with me sharing my thesis research library and agreeing to keep in touch. I get off Skype, fire up Twitter and what is the first tweet I see?

[blackbirdpie url=”!/brlamb/statuses/76681863216889856″]

Seriously serendipitous. And an excellent read about how much context and depth you can pack into 140 characters.


Camaraderie can be potent

I love this phrase “coaxing serendipity” as a way to describe the process that results when a loosely structured informal social environment of like minded people occurs. I’ve experienced this kind of serendipity in my own learning as a result of the loose connections I make using social networks.

I don’t think these informal salons are something that are necessarily exclusive to the domain of artists or cultural creatives, but rather any type of CoP or NoP where a common practice occurs. Same thing with the tip on making it ridiculous – not something I think is crucial, but I agree that loose and fun will win out at the end of the day.

via Chris Lott

Amplify’d from
The establishment of informal “salons” or “circles” of artists or cultural creatives dates back to the Ancient Greeks and is a common feature of several touchstone cultural movements from impressionism to abstract expressionism to beat poetry.  The free-flowing exchange of ideas in a social setting serves to encourage deeper thinking, challenge assumptions, and expand resources – crucial aspects of any creative career. 

Furthermore, a consistent regular forum for discussion acts as a method to “coax serendipity” or encourage chance overlaps that lead to something exceptional: an idea that turns into a novel, the mention of a name that turns into a mentor, an acquaintance that becomes a star client.

A few tips on coaxing serendipity
1. Gather the right people.
2. Don’t dwell on making history.
3. Keep the agenda loose and social.
4. Establish consistency.
5. Keep it ridiculous.
Camaraderie can be potent.