Happenstance and productivity
I’ve been tussling with the issue of happenstance recently. Let me explain. Happenstance has become, for me, a word to describe the happy accidents that are a valuable and pleasurable part of making unexpected progress. Happenings that came from coincidence, rather than from planning. The random circumstances where things ‘just work out’. I think you know the things.
Happenstances are a problem, because they are useful, but they come from being inefficient. Many a workday breakthrough comes from a chance encounter by the coffee machine, or from an overheard then interrupted conversation. These aren’t, in themselves, a productive activity. You’d be worried about me if I spend the whole day hanging around by the coffee machine, waiting for a chance conversation. At least I hope you would!
These things are lost when someone works alone or away from the office, which is one of the reasons I have been looking at how social media can recreate these chance work encounters. They are also lost if we are 100% focussed on the to do list.
So, once you start down the path of creating randomness, where do you stop? Productivity seems to be about good planning, as any GTD practitioner knows. Neat lists and clear goals. Order. Predictability. Logic. These are the things of productivity. So, what are Chaos, Randomness, Irrationality? Why… They are the things of creativity.
In all of our systems and processes, we need to leave the space to be creative. Knowledge workers produce thoughts; in the olden days, so I have learned, this was called being creativite. And it is good.
One of my very favourite words is ‘serendipity’. I also love the Chambers dictionary (weird, I know) so I often look up words, even when I know what they mean, to see the etymology of a word.
This is what I found for serendipity, “Serendip, a former name for Sri Lanka. Horace Walpole coined the word (1754) from the title of the fairy-tale ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’, whose heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”
Knowledge management? Not possible, in my view. But designing an organisational environment and systems to support people in their informal learning, making discoveries (of people and information) by accident and sagacity? In other words encouraging ‘structured randomness’ (term brought to my attention by Dr Alan Rae). Very possible, and a smart thing for leaders to consider.
Nice post, Benjamin. You really, REALLY should read “How to attract good luck” by Carr. He discusses at length how important these happenstances are, and how to foster them. He agrees with one of your points in particular – getting out more, and (importantly) meeting new people. “Don’t trust strangers” is probably find advice, but trusting is different from fearing them – they’re crucial to luck!
Thank you Anne Marie – I’ll comeback to the knowledge management one in another post 🙂
Matt – I’ll check that one out. Quirkology is another good book with some interesting pieces about ‘luck’ and lucky ‘people’.
The big question for me, is how you ‘plan’ for creativity…