Do we make our own luck?
Many years ago, I was doing one of my favorite tasks – opening the mail. I bet you know what I mean. It’s a whole lot of fun to see a stack of appeal returns waiting for you.
One day, I opened an envelope to find an unexpected large gift. It came with a note addressed to our artistic director.
When I told him about the gift and gave him the note, he asked what had happened. I really wasn’t sure. “Serendipity”, I said, with a happy shrug. By that, I meant “I’m not sure, and can’t really claim credit.”
Yesterday, the headline of an article in the New York Times grabbed my attention: How to cultivate the art of serendipity.
Apparently, serendipity doesn’t just happen. It’s a by-product of a curious and open mind.
Usually, when I spend time chasing down vague ideas or following the mental whim of a moment, I fear I’m wasting time. That I’m taking time away from real work to let my mind wander.
But serendipity it seems, needs just that wandering. Those odds and ends, those intuitive jumps, they often lead to something fruitful.
Spend some time wandering.
Of course, when I read the article, I had to start chasing this idea down.
I learned the corporate world is already on to it. Businesses have been redesigning their workspaces to increase new ideas and collaboration.
But much of what they’re starting to do, nonprofits have already been doing out of necessity.
Like smaller work spaces to increase collaboration. (Or annoyance, depending on who you work with.)
Or brainstorming with people from different areas of the organization to spark new insights. (Ditto.)
Necessity may already be pushing us to bounce off each other in fruitful ways – if we’re open to the new ideas when they happen.
But much depends on the organization.
In an atmosphere where failure is an acceptable cost of innovation, new ideas thrive.
Do this, get that thinking won’t create anything new. Failure doesn’t cause innovation – there’s correlation, not causation.
From the article:
But the interesting question is not whether we consider luck as a strategy, but whether or not we are adroit enough in our thinking to be the master of luck – to be the creators of “engineered serendipity”.
We can make serendipity more likely to happen.
It takes an atmosphere where staff are trusted, treated fairly and open to diverse points of view.
And that makes sense. When I’ve been trusted, seen as capable and able to chase down ideas at work, I’ve been most successful.
When creativity was celebrated, and failure was accepted, I’ve raised more money.
When no one questioned me if I spent the morning reading, the ideas I unearthed were good ones.
The less constrained and more trusted I was, the more “lucky” I was. And the more successful our fundraising programs were.
Let curiosity lead to inspiration.
Why did we get that big check? I’m still not completely sure. It was the beginning of a strong relationship with the donor – one that lasted through her life.
But why then? Maybe I paid more attention to the notes she attached to earlier gifts and made sure the right person saw them. Maybe I did that because I enjoyed reading her literary-minded commentary on our plays. More likely, something just moved her and we benefited – a happy bit of serendipity.
But I’m sure the right conditions had to be in place for that to happen.
I hope your 2016 is serendipitous.
But don’t wait for it to happen. Do some wandering and make it so!
Photo: Joshua Earle