Digital Serendipity

As originally published on LinkedIn

20 years ago, I wrote the final paper for my music exam. It was titled, “How to teach piano lessons virtually, using digital conferencing tools over the internet.” 

I had chosen the topic at a time when the closest thing that you could get in terms of online conferencing was streaming a short video with the RealPlayer. Skype didn’t even exist.

The subject was ahead of its time and my professor was quick to point out that I may have to repeat my paper with a different topic if it would be too hard to follow. However, after he read the final version, he said, “This is either one of the best papers I’ve ever read or it’s completely missing the point of (classical) music education and training in the fine arts.” I was lucky that it became the earlier option — the paper is still available for students and teachers in the university’s library. 

Of course, much has changed since then and as we all know, online lessons (even in subjects like classical piano) are now not just possible but have become a necessity during the pandemic.

Will everything continue to be online?

I thought of my paper this week as much of Europe and Asia go into a second lockdown and I was wondering — how will I successfully manage to do the fundamental nature of my work of building, growing, and nurturing relationships for yet another undefined period under virtual conditions?

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It worked fine during the last six months. Like many of us, I had accumulated a huge stack of business cards, comprised of an eclectic mix of people, both business and personal, met in all walks of life — at exhibitions, one-on-one meetings, on airplanes, in hotel lifts and lobbies, at events, etc. I was going through boxes of cards, connecting virtually, and asking people how they’re faring during this unprecedented time.

I also checked in with the people I’ve known “forever,” so as not to lose touch with them through the crisis.

Serendipity with people is mindful, not accidental

I found that reaching people in their home offices was much easier than I had thought. The typical hierarchical barriers (e.g., an assistant managing their calendar, etc.) were far fewer. Some were simply delighted to receive a call. After all, we’re all people and given enough time, everyone can feel lonely in a home office, or miss a watercooler-, airport-, or event-based conversation which would happen seemingly by accident.

Many years ago, I scheduled a meeting with a man at a hotel lobby somewhere in Asia after a mutual friend had introduced us. It was a short face-to-face meeting, but we stayed in touch and over the years ran into each other often completely unplanned — at airports, conferences, hotel lobbies. Was it accidental we kept bumping into each other past our initial scheduled meeting those many years ago? Or was it incidental? I’d like to think of it as serendipity, especially as today he has become one of UIB’s cornerstone investors.  

“Ability is of little account without opportunity.“ – Napoleon Bonaparte

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When I think back on serendipitous events (of which I have experienced many!), I realize that such serendipity plays a vital role in all of our business and private lives. Just think of your own experiences and the many stories you’ve heard about how people met the love of their lives.

Today, when physical interactions are minimized, in-person events are canceled, lobbies and our public, shared spaces for human encounters are declared danger zones, where can we find such serendipity? Does it even exist in our “oh so pretty, digitally immersive, online zooming, and virtual exhibition world?”

I think this is a question worth exploring further.

If I didn’t take that trip, go to that event, talk to that person on the elevator, real-life serendipity would have never hit me. The willingness to participate is key, whether it’s offline or online.

Digital serendipity

We have to open our minds to a world in which “digital serendipity” can happen. 

It already does. Have you ever searched something on the internet, ending up finding something else, only to realize that this was the thing you needed even more?

Are we truly only governed by software algorithms in this digital world, or, is there a way we can take the beauty from offline serendipity with us into the online activities we do every day?

I believe so.

How can we increase our chances for such digital serendipity? The law of attraction works both ways and by creating situations where we’re seeding (and perhaps even controlling) the incidents behind the accidents, we’re effectively preparing ourselves to be ready when such digital serendipity hits.  

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

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The key to digital serendipity is to be open, authentic, and prepared for the desired outcome.

How do you prepare for this new world of digital serendipity? Can some of the concepts we have used for millennia offline be brought online? How can we leverage the core of our being to make online interactions more personable, more authentic, and thus even more serendipitous and sustainable? I’d love to hear your views, techniques, and experiences.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.“ – Thomas Jefferson

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