Serendipitous Encounters

August 3, 2019 Jenny Odell Gianfranco Chicco Richard Sennett Serendipity

This week alone, I came across two different pieces of writing that focus on the process of making new connections, getting new ideas, and insights. The ideas? Get out of your comfort zone by either letting go or actively putting yourself in a position that’ll challenge your assumptions and likes.

First, there’s Jenny Odell’s book How To Do Nothing”, a field guide for escaping the attention economy”. She writes:

We still recognize that many of what gives one’s life meaning stems from accidents, interruptions, and serendipitous encounters: the off time” that a mechanistic view of experience seeks to eliminate.”

I’ve only just started reading her book, but the overall idea of it is very compelling: Opting out of the idea of productivity we subscribe to in order to increase those chance encounters that make us break free from our all too rigid mindsets.

A second—if similar—take on this comes from Gianfranco Chicco, an entrepreneur who left his job to recharge physically and (…) mentally.”. (An idea that’s admittedly rooted in the privilege of being able to just… leave one’s job). His idea? Take a serendipity break”, or a phase during which he wants to actively explore different possible paths”.

The concept of taking a serendipity break is based on my belief that luck doesn’t exist and that new, unexpected opportunities can be the result of feeding the Serendipity Engine.

The Serendipity Engine works just like an internal combustion engine and, like with a high performance muscle car, you need to feed it with the right kind of propellant. In this analogy, the fuel is made of different activities, skills, and conversations. In my case I select them so that they are deliberately out of or tangential to my current professional domain. The engine also requires maintenance and fine tuning via iterations and changes to the activities or skills I become involved with.

What I find most interesting about his experiment is that he believes it’ll translate into new skills:

In the book The Craftsman, sociologist Richard Sennett describes how skill builds by moving irregularly, and sometimes by taking detours”, which is akin to keeping the Serendipity Engine in perpetual motion to encourage the strengthening of current skills and allowing the development of new ones.

I love both of these ideas: That happiness and fulfillment comes from random encounters, and that you can play your part in ensuring you have those very encounters — by actively seeking out things you wouldn’t normally do.

I’ve been feeling a bit burned out by life in the city lately, mostly because it so often translates into doing the very same activities over and over again. The things I’ve enjoyed the most over the last couple of months—cycling, yoga, and film photography come to mind—have all been relatively new activities that I didn’t perviously do or know anything about.

More of that kind of discovery and fulfillment sounds exactly like something I’d enjoy.

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