Fostering Serendipity

According to Steven Johnson, the word “serendipity” comes from to us from a Persian fairy tale, by way of Horace Walpole. Walpole described in a letter how the protagonists in the fairy tale made discoveries “by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” There is power in allowing yourself to veer off the beaten path and following ideas where they lead you.

We can foster serendipity by designing our physical and our mental environments, creating conditions where ideas can collide with one another. Unconscious states, like dreaming, can help provoke the collision of ideas in ways that generate new insight.

One way to promote serendipity is to force encounters with ideas and writing that we’ve forgotten about. There are now software tools that facilitate this, as does Luhmann’s zettelkasten.



Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come from: The Seven Patterns of Innovation. London: Penguin, 2011.