Embrace change, embrace serendipity

This was a labour of love. And the love story began many months ago. When young Ricardo Sousa – organizer of the Switch Conference – invited me to speak there, I almost instantly knew that serendipity would be the topic.

Why? Because it’s a concept that brought so many opportunities, challenges and great people into my life that I wanted to celebrate it. Because I thought that maybe the audience wasn’t familiar with it, so it would be a good change to share something truly different. And because I’ve lately come to realize the importance of the concept for business.

I shared the topic with no one and lived these last weeks stumbling upon interesting content on serendipity, and serendipitously watching serendipity in action, without saying a word. Not easy I assure you!! But, you see, I really wanted it to be a surprise to the audience (a risky strategy because from the teaser title of my talk everyone expected that I would be talking about s… failure 🙂 ).

I invested my time, heart and soul into the preparation of the slides. In my mind the design had to be swirly, portraying the twists and turns of events, with brushes of shades of pink emerging from the greys and blacks (isn’t that how serendipity feels like when it happens to you?). The only problem was that I’m not used to work with vectors and design software, but managed to do it using a trial-and-error method 🙂

Then came the last minute details: the initial version of the presentation was too big, I was feeling pretty tired and had little time to rehearse, and wondered if the strategy of hiding the theme was a good one. Doubts and some nervousness arose in the last days. Would the audience like the topic? Would they identify with what I was saying? Would it be too far off from the topics addressed by the other speakers?

All doubts and nervousness disappeared miraculously as I set foot on that stage. And there I was: the words coming out right, the audience in attentive silence, the occasional laughter from them and my brain telling me “not going bad girl” as the words in this foreign language that I’m writing kept coming out of my mouth.

And the best came later. And it came in such a way that I am still overwhelmed: yes they liked it and yes they identified with it! And they even tweeted “Serendipity has a place in business” 🙂 What more could I want?

So in case you want to see it again, here are the slides:

And I also take this opportunity to share with you some interesting links, used as inspiration for preparing this talk:

» Serendipity on Twitter by Chris Brogan on Web 2.0 here

» Design for serendipity (on the web) here

» Serendipity and tacit knowledge by Ana Neves (Portuguese) including video by John Hagel (English) here

» Serendipity and knowledge sharing by Luis Suarez here

» Designing for serendipity in the community here

» Serendipity and IDEO’s intranet here

» Creating enhanced serendipity/facilitating serendipity by Ross Dawson here and by Luis Suarez here

» Serendipity and SXSW here and here

» Serendipity and events/informal gatherings here

» Serendipity and knowledge workers here

» “Elevate randomness into an art form” 🙂 here

» The origins of the word serendipity here

Once again thank you ALL for the wonderful feedback on my talk and congratulations to Ricardo and his amazing team for such a great event!

And remember, no matter what you do, EMBRACE CHANGE, EMBRACE SERENDIPITY!

(update 19th April: I invite you all to check this great blog post by @inospito)


16 thoughts on “Embrace change, embrace serendipity

  1. What a wonderful blog post! A true joy to read through it and find out plenty more about the overall experience of finding the theme and figuring out what you were going to touch base on in those few slides. I *loved* the presentation and so did, once again, with the blog post! I am now waiting for the video of the session and it will all be complete!

    I must confess that as I was reading through your post, Ana, one thought came to mind, time and time again, and which I have learned to enjoy as well in our day to day social interactions: “Let serendipity do its magic!” :-))

    Glad you did so! Great piece of work! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your comment Luis! More than discussing the topic of serendipity I really wanted to share how I lived this whole experience. And yes, we should let serendipity do its magic 🙂

      • Hi Ana! Thanks for the follow-up! Well, it surely had the right effect! It’s really exciting how more and more we keep letting serendipity do its magic in helping drive new business and help develop further on our social capital. Glad you put together the slides and this post! I will be referencing them in a follow up blog post soon! 🙂

        Thanks again!

    • John, you had me googling “Poincare conjecture” to understand your comment 🙂 And no I don’t think it emulates something as complex as that 🙂

      Thanks for dropping by my little corner in the blogosphere and for commenting.

    • Thank you for your comment Gerald! One of the good things of this venture was finding such diverse and interesting content around the topic of serendipity 🙂 Hope the links I’ve shared are useful in some way.

  2. Dear Ana,
    thanks a lot for sharing the background of your presentation with us. Now that I know which toughts and feelings you put into it, I find it even more beautiful. I am amazed at how you tought yourself a design software to develop those illustrations that are not only lovely but also perfect to convey the message. Chapeau! (I was already proud with myself when I drew a river for a connect.BASF presentation – http://www.slideshare.net/basf/onlinekommunikationspreis-connect-basf).
    Let me confess something: I first heard the word “serendipity” less than a year ago, in a talk of Luis Suarez. I had to look it up on the web back then because I had no idea what it meant! Back then I got the basics from wikipedia, but your presentation helped my to understand the concept much better. I will refer to it when sharing the idea of serendipity with colleauges.
    Would it be OK for you if I embedded your presentation (via slideshare) in a blog post on connect.BASF (for our employees only)?
    Kind regards,

    • Dear Cordelia, it’s so good to hear from you again! Maybe there’s a designer in me that I need to discover 😉 all is possible!

      Regarding the word itself, my brief research showed that the original meaning got somehow lost as time passed. And even the definition of Wikipedia seems rather incomplete. I particularly like Lawrence Block’s definition of serendipity “look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for” as it implies an initial action – “look for something” – that distinguishes serendipity from pure luck. For more info on the origins of the word please check this article: http://livingheritage.org/serendipity.htm

      As for your request but of course you can embed by presentation, it’s an honour for me! Maybe you’ll show it to me if I ever go visit you at Ludwigshafen 😉

      Looking forward to catching up with you soon!

  3. Dear Ana,

    I thanked you already via tweet; but I want to thank you once again! I wish to let you know that your post and your beautiful presentation gave me extra energy to go on with my amateur research on serendipity!

    I’ve been social media activist for a long time. But a bigger change, a meaningful one happened in Twitter. I became more active in Twitter at the same time I founded a company with my friends, two year ago. This 2-year period has given me so much, exactly in the ways you described. As a startup entrepreneur it is vital to have diverse connections, for the information & knowledge, connections, and weak signals… all the opportunities to understand, realize, get an idea, and unlearn and learn!

    I am glad I’ve met all the great like-minded persons: you Ana, Luis Suarez, and many more.

    And you know, I call Twitter my Serendipity Heaven 

    Have a great Easter time,

    • Dear Riita, thank you so much for taking the trouble again of providing positive feedback on my presentation.

      I’m truly overwhelmed by the effects it had on attendees of the conference and also by the colateral effects on Twitter 🙂 And I’m so happy it gave you extra energy!

      I share your “love” for Twitter and the serendipity it brings. Maybe Twitter should hire us as evangelists 😉

      All the best for your startup project! And a happy Easter time 🙂


  4. Hello Ana:

    People are moving from the wired desktop to the wireless hyper-connected network. Structured work (step by step based) and ad-hoc knowledge intensive work coexist, but companies need to organize work around our daily tasks rather than bidding it to business rules imposed by corporate structure. In some industries, data is not anymore in enterprise systems is outside or lost in natural language on e-mails messages.

    Some companies provided systems that allow people to share knowledge but forgot how knowledge work takes place.

    Peter Drucker once said “In knowledge work, however, the first questions in increasing productivity—and working smarter—have to be, “What is the task? What are we trying to accomplish? Why do it at all?”

    Now you point all that: the need to people engagement, the need to increase co-creation, foster innovation, but is not clear how to implement, how to use the zillion of people connections, data, artifacts, patterns mining, to actually provide a way to bring knowledge work in place to companies.

    One of the areas these approaches are used is in event driven processes: Imagine a handler lost your luggage and you tweet about that disappointed.

    The handler is responsible for the issue but the passenger does not know the difference and complains about the carrier.

    An intelligent airline detects the bad feedback tweet and starts the complain handling, minimizing the loss to the passenger, resolving in the background the problem with it’s partner (the handler).

    In the end the airline is successful to bring some happiness to the passenger and gets a satisfaction tweet. If the airline is effective it can also cross sell a premium luggage insurance to the passenger.

    This is just an example how we can use approaches like you presented, but somehow you need to go dig further how it can be used in the enterprise world.


    Alberto Manuel

    • Alberto, thank you so much for such a long and insightful comment. Let me start by saying that the talk I presented at Switch was very specific to the question of serendipity (I could not develop any other concepts or considerations in just 15 minutes).

      Let me also share some comments on some points:
      » “Some companies provided systems that allow people to share knowledge but forgot how knowledge work takes place”. Traditional knowledge sharing platforms usually focused much more on the content itself than on the employees. Knowledge sharing (especially tacit knowledge) is social (person to person).

      » “…you point all that: the need to people engagement, the need to increase co-creation, foster innovation, but is not clear how to implement…” agree, it’s easier said than done. What some companies that are achieving good results in this area recommend is the following: foster connections between employees and put in place the practices that stimulate the desired behaviours when it comes to sharing ideas and motivating participation and interactions

      » “This is just an example how we can use approaches like you presented, but somehow you need to go dig further how it can be used in the enterprise world”. Again, the focus of the talk was on the specific topic of serendipity, not on social media for customer service nor on social tools inside the enterprise (though the last topic was briefly explored with social tools as an enabler to serendipitous connections and conversations).

      Again, thank you for taking some time away to read and comment.


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