It’s never too late to start to embrace serendipity
April 20, 2023/Economic Empowerment, Featured, Health & Wellbeing
When the Futurenauts addressed an audience at The Conduit, our reporter Lucia was present. Little did she know that she would end the night with a desire to take up tango after inspiring a stranger to grow their own mushrooms. In a world where we’re evermore in our bubbles, how can we learn to lean into the unexpected and serendipitous?
‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one once we grow up’.
I pondered on this Picasso quote as Mark, one of The Futurenauts, addressed us at The Conduit. Why does creativity die as we travel through the education system? The divergent thinking that we have as children slowly disappears as schools try and split knowledge up into neat compartments and subjects. This kills our ability to make connections across them and solve complex problems, something I spend a lot of time thinking about whilst studying at the London Interdisciplinary School.
We’re (somehow) about to welcome in spring! Research suggests that, if you set new year’s resolutions all the way back in January, most of them would already have lapsed. For those looking to set or reset resolutions, I take the stance that we can afford ourselves a degree of generosity. Spring is synonymous with genesis, so if there’s any season where we can sanction a new start or a restart, this would be it. Introducing new ideas and habits can and should happen the whole year through, and with that I am here to introduce something I’ve decided to commit to – the principle of serendipity.
Serendipity is the experience of discovering something good or valuable by accident or luck. The idea of living serendipitously was introduced to me at an evening with The Futurenauts and has impacted my life in a few significant ways since.
The Futurenauts is made up of duo Ed Gillespie and Mark Stevenson, two pioneering changemakers who think about the future in a variety of ways. Both are incredibly accomplished and host a podcast with their friend Jon Richardson that centres around three pillars that they articulate as: How are we fucked; why are we fucked; and how can we unfuck ourselves. Speaking about the importance of being optimistic about the future, they shared their eight principles of optimism. I was most struck by the fifth of the eight principles – you’ve guessed: Serendipity.
Having mused about how formal education stifles creativity, Mark went on to speak about how adopting ideas or principles from different places can help us to generate new ideas using the example of champion surfer Clay Marzo who applied moves learnt from observing motocross racing to his own surfing repertoire, thus inventing a unique style and moves the likes of which surfing had never seen before. Introducing serendipity in your life creates a breeding ground for unique ideas and combinations we were told.
How can we court serendipitous moments?
How often do we create a time and space for new experiences, new connections, new possibilities?
Perhaps every child is an artist because so much of the world is new to them, like a blank canvas. Mark relayed his means of introducing serendipity into his life via a serendipity fund. This is money (and/or time) set aside specifically to do the kind of random things that can trigger new ideas. It’s a principle that can be applied throughout your life, from business to personal life. This could look like going on a work trip to the theatre instead of drinks at a bar, going on an activity date to try something out of your comfort zones rather than a dinner date, or even as simple as taking a different route home once in a while instead of the normal or fastest one. You never know what could happen – nothing might happen, and that’s also fine! – but it does expand your mind and open you up to the possibility of something new, even if you don’t make the connections immediately.
Mark uses this idea of a serendipity fund in his relationship, but takes it one step further. Each month him and his wife take turns to organise something they think the other person will actually hate. He says it was a trip to the theatre to see a contemporary dance performance of Dracula (which, as expected, he hated), that made him realise how incredible a command of their bodies the dancers had. That, in turn, inspired him to take his health seriously, eat more healthily, and start exercising more frequently.
Stepping into serendipity
In true Conduit style, we were encouraged to turn to our neighbour and suggest an activity for them to try. As a budding mycology enthusiast, I suggest to the stranger-now-friend beside me (a Thomas Linder of Holden River Consultancy) to grow some oyster mushrooms. To my surprise, Thomas got straight to it and ordered a grow-your-own oyster mushroom kit.
He suggested to me that I should attend an Argentine tango class. Although I love dance, I was a bit apprehensive about going to a tango class. I felt self-conscious and anxious, but I decided to push through it and go anyway. I went to a Tango Terra class on a Thursday at the Seven Dials club (which is just around The Conduit if you are interested in trying out a tango class for yourself). And I’m so glad I did. I turned up with an open mind, with little reference apart from a short YouTube video I watched just before to understand what tango even looked like. Going in with few expectations meant I got a lot more out of it.
The class was small, we started with a warm up and a few basic steps before we got paired off. I learnt more in that class than I was expecting to. I realised just how much I have the urge to lead, and how I instinctually want to take people in the direction I want to go. But that’s not how the tango works; if I kept pushing against my partner then we wouldn’t get anywhere, and the dance would be jerky and awkward. Instead, I learned to relax, trust my partner, and just go along for the ride. Who would have thought that a tango class would teach me to trust in another’s ability to lead? What’s more, it taught me that being open to serendipity and fully embracing new experiences can teach you so much about yourself.
You might be thinking, okay, that’s all very well, so I can try a new hobby, why does that matter? It matters because we are constantly coming up against difficult challenges, personal, professional, and planetary and we need to come up with new and innovative solutions to these problems.
Though traditional education systems try to dictate otherwise, the world is not split up into disciplines. The real world is messy. But if we can expand our experiences and apply them in new and compelling ways, we open ourselves up to a whole new way of creating positive change, and that is, afterall, what The Conduit is all about.
So I leave you with a mission. Find a friend and swap suggestions for activities that you think is out of the other person’s comfort zone, and then nudge each other to do it. If you do it together, choose something that you both don’t have experience in to learn together.
I hope introducing serendipity into your life teaches you things you didn’t know about yourself, introduces you to new ideas, and helps you make a positive change if not in the world at least in your world.
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