“Follow Jane Doe to customize what you see in this email.”

“People who bought this book, also bought….”

“Because you liked this movie, you might also like…..”

When Amazon, Netflix, LinkedIn  and Facebook curate what they show me, I find out about movies I would never have otherwise known about; books and articles that are right up my alley.

Rabbit and Hat But I miss The Magic of Serendipity.

I’m a serial reader, and often go back to the same authors again and again. But in the library, I browse the books next to that author, and I’m exposed to writers that have nothing in common with my current favorite other than the first 2 letters of their last name.  Serendipity.

General circulation newspapers keep me informed of things going on around the country and the world, not just topics I’ve decided to stay informed about. Even if I don’t really care about what’s happening in Antarctica, the paper covers it, and I at least glance at the headline. I find connections between ideas and events I would otherwise overlook. Serendipity.

Attending conferences, asking how participants ended up in this field, I emerge with connections made by doctors, lawyers, cab drivers, librarians, therapists. Serendipity.

I’m not a curmudgeon pining for the old days. Curating by Amazon, LinkedIn and their ilk allow me to dive ever deeper into areas I already know I care about. This is a good thing.

Serendipity EquationBut how do we get exposed to other ideas? To other subjects? To other fields?

When we’re caught up in a particular field like nonprofits or, more specifically, local homelessness, the religious response to hunger or LGBT issues, it is easy to be so focused that we essentially wear blinders. We lose the opportunity to look beyond the all-consuming topic. We don’t give ourselves permission to read speculative fiction, or nonfiction beyond our own sphere.

We lose the clash of ideas and thoughts that spark creativity. We lose the spontaneous creativity that lies in the serendipitous Aha! moment emerging from seeing connections between 12th century commerce and the current distribution of food in the state.

Having diverse viewpoints on my board of directors leads to robust discussions about our issues. Just as important, though, are the serendipitous comments made about things outside our realm that spark creative ways of envisioning our future.

Amazon and Netflix use algorithms to give us more of the same.  It’s time to find a book or a movie that has nothing to do with anything you’re currently working on, and that is nothing like anything you’ve read recently. Watch a documentary about a subject you’ve always been curious about but didn’t indulge.serendipity definition

Ask your board members to talk about their lives outside of their board service.

It’s time to break out and look for serendipity.
Our creativity relies on it!


Have some thoughts to share on this subject?  Get in touch with me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.