January 21, 2022

CGA’s Christian Busch Talks about Cultivating Serendipity in His Book, “Connect the Dots: The Art & Science of Creating Good Luck”

Christian Busch is a clinical assistant professor and director of the Global Economy program at NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches on purpose-driven leadership, impact entrepreneurship, social innovation, and emerging markets. The co-founder of Leaders on Purpose, an organization convening high-impact leaders, he is among the Thinkers 50’s ‘top upcoming management thinkers’ and frequently speaks at conferences such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), TEDx, and Financial Times Sustainability Summit. Penguin Random House recently published the international paperback edition of his book, “Connect the Dots: The Art & Science of Creating Good Luck.”

How do you create good luck?
When you think back to the things that truly shaped your life – perhaps meeting your significant other in a coffeeshop, or getting your new job after coincidentally meeting someone at a conference – they often weren’t just luck passively plopping into your lap in that one moment. There was an active element to it. You had to seize the opportunity of that moment, and do something with it. (Like muster the courage to speak to your now-partner or potential new boss.) That’s the very pattern behind thousands of examples of serendipity (“smart luck”): it’s all about spotting and connecting the dots, turning something unexpected into positive outcomes.

How can students, employees, and leaders turn the unexpected into opportunity?
Our research shows that the most successful and joyful people let go of the illusion of control, and gain influence over uncertainty so they can use it to their benefit. They don’t over-define a particular career path, problem, plan, or outcome, to avoid limiting what is possible. Instead, they have some sort of guiding principle or key values or “curiosities” combined with ambitious yet adjustable plans that allow them to deal with the unexpected, filter out distractions, and seed effective serendipity triggers. Accepting imperfection as part of life allows us to more easily reframe situations so that where others might see a problem, you see an opportunity.

How do you create a culture of “smart luck” and innovation in organizations?
Three effective practices that have emerged from our decade-long research are:

  • Enable serendipity spotting: Alertness is crucial to notice unexpected events and turn them into positive outcomes. If we want our employees to come up with new insights or ideas, we need to “de-risk” the process of voicing them.

  • Create random virtual collisions: Randomly match people across the organization for a “quick virtual coffee.” This can lead to recreating “watercooler moment” serendipity, but also helps develop a deeper sense of belonging.

  • Celebrate serendipitous outcomes: Instead of trying to “airbrush” the unexpected out of our stories of success, being honest about the ups and downs of (almost every!) idea can help build trust, and legitimize the notion that instead of being a threat to authority, unexpected ideas are one of the major ways for us to thrive in a fast-changing world.   

Why is your book relevant to the times we live in?
Modern life is full of chance encounters, changing plans, human errors, and unexpected crises. The book explores how, if acted upon, unexpected moments can enhance our worldview, expand our social circles, and create new opportunities for innovation and impact. It focuses on the science of serendipity as a tool for innovation and impact, and distils concrete practices on how to cultivate serendipity for enhanced meaning.

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