Chance favors the connected mind. Opportunities for serendipity increase with bigger, more diverse networks. Build personal learning networks. Expose yourself to new perspectives. Listen in solidarity. Be in the space. When we seek perspectives different than our own, share hunches, and connect ideas, we participate in created serendipity.
Yet these seemingly serendipitous events, are also based on our willingness to create connections and be in the space, and to put in the effort in the first place.
I often tell people that if you start connecting with others in online spaces, you won’t just find great ideas, but the great ideas will find you.
Serendipity is strongest in the streams emerging from the intersections of multiple networks. These streams “are the opposite of extractive: they are open, inclusive and capable of creating wealth in non-zero-sum ways.” They are where our systems are best understood.
Rather than connecting with people who are like them only in ascribed characteristics — things we mostly acquire from birth, like family, race, and social class (though this one can change throughout one’s life)—many people have the opportunity to seek connections with others who share similar interests and motivations. Of course, place, race, family, gender, and social class continue to play a very important role in structuring human relationships—but the scope and the scale of their power and their role as a social mechanism have shifted and changed as modernity advanced.(Page 10)
Opportunities to find and make such connections with people based on common interests and viewpoints are thoroughly intertwined with the online architectures of interaction and visibility and the design of online platforms. These factors—the affordances of digital spaces—shape who can find and see whom, and under what conditions; not all platforms create identical environments and opportunities for connection. Rather, online platforms have architectures just as our cities, roads, and buildings do, and those architectures affect how we navigate them. (Explored in depth in later chapters.) If you cannot find people, you cannot form a community with them.
We need to become better at being humans. Learning to use symbols and knowledge in new ways, across groups, across cultures, is a powerful, valuable, and very human goal. And it is also one that is obtainable, if we only begin to open our minds to full, complete use of computers to augment our most human of capabilities.Douglas C. Engelbart
if we don’t support young people in building out a strategically rich graph, they will reinforce the worst segments of our society
With my writing, I try to connect educators, tech workers, and the neurodiversity and disability communities. Those are the networks that I bring together in my streams. Within my networks, I practice small b blogging.
Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.
And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.
As Venkatesh says in the calculus of grit – release work often, reference your own thinking & rework the same ideas again and again. That’s the small b blogging model.
Source: Small b blogging
And I accompany that blogging with engagement with my networks on Twitter.
Twitter is a way to build a learning network that transcends traditional understandings of knowledge and ideas, of connecting learners and ideas. The democratization of information and knowledge requires our engagement or it will happen without us.
There is now an imperative to contribute, not simply for the sake of it, but because there is an obligation to model digital literacy. And what does this really mean? It means that learners openly and actively engage in the learning process and that leaders lead the way. We live in a post-consumer era: how do we empower our students to thrive here, to contribute and create? If we are not open-minded, literate learners and contributors ourselves, how can we expect our students to be?
The digital landscape is now open. It’s time for our schools to be the same.
Small b blogging and building small, personal networks via social media, group channels, email, and newsletters are how I participate in the commons and be a part of the serendipity.
I am a big believer in “created serendipity“; the more connected you are, the more ideas seem to find you, not the other way around.
These days, the equivalent of the 20th century ‘work hack’ of spending time at the water cooler is spending time on social networks. The ironic thing is that, because knowledge work isn’t usually procedural and repetitive, but thrives on serendipity and slow hunches, this ‘goofing off’ can actually be beneficial.
You, each of you, have some special wild cards. Play with them. Find out what makes you different and better. Because it is there, if only you can find it. And once you do, you’ll be able to contribute answers to others and others will be willing to contribute back to you. In short, synthetic serendipity doesn’t just happen. By golly, you must create it.
If in a traditional organization nothing is free and everything has a defined role in some grand scheme, in a stream, everything tends steadily towards free as in both beer and speech.
Unlike organizations defined by boundaries, streams are what Acemoglu and Robinson call pluralist institutions. These are the opposite of extractive: they are open, inclusive and capable of creating wealth in non-zero-sum ways.
What makes streams ideal contexts for open-ended innovation through tinkering is that they constantly present unrelated people, ideas and resources in unexpected juxtapositions. This happens because streams emerge as the intersection of multiple networks.
As a result of such unexpected juxtapositions, you might “solve” problems you didn’t realize existed and do things that nobody realized were worth doing. For example, seeing a particular college friend and a particular coworker in the same stream might suggest a possibility for a high-value introduction: a small act of social bricolage. Because you are seen by many others from different perspectives, you might find people solving problems for you without any effort on your part.
The developers of every agile software product in perpetual beta inhabit a stream of unexpected uses discovered by tinkering users.
Slack turns the internal life of a corporation into a stream.
When streams work well on the other hand, reality becomes increasingly intertwingled (a portmanteau of intertwined and tangled), as Ted Nelson evocatively labeled the phenomenon. People, ideas and things can have multiple, fluid meanings depending on what else appears in juxtaposition with them. Creative possibilities rapidly multiply, with every new network feeding into the stream. The most interesting place to be is usually the very edge, rather than the innermost sanctums. In the United States, being a young and talented person in Silicon Valley can be more valuable and interesting than being a senior staffer in the White House. Being the founder of the fastest growing startup may offer more actual leverage than being President of the United States.
Source: The Serendipity of Streams
The result is a virtuous cycle of increasing serendipity, driven by widespread lifestyle adaptation and cascades of self-improving innovation. Surplus and spillover creating more surplus and spillover. Brad deLong’s slouching towards utopia for consumers and Edmund Phelps’ mass flourishing for producers. And when the virtuous cycle is powered by a soft, world-eating technology, the steady, cumulative impact is immense.
When the allure of pastoralist visions is resisted, and the virtuous cycle is allowed to work, we get Promethean progress. This is unpredictable evolution in the direction of maximal societal impact, unencumbered by limiting deterministic visions. Just as the principle of rough consensus and running code creates great software, consumer surplus and spillover effects create great societies. Just as pragmatic and purist development models lead to serendipity and zemblanity in engineering respectively, Promethean and pastoral models lead to serendipity and zemblanity at the level of entire societies.
Source: Prometheans and Pastoralists
The surplus in the case of working agile processes is the source of many pleasant surprises: serendipity. The deficit in the case of waterfall models is the source of what William Boyd called zemblanity: “unpleasant unsurprises.”
In software, waterfall processes fail in predictable ways, like classic Greek tragedies. Agile processes on the other hand, can lead to snowballing serendipity, getting luckier and luckier, and succeeding in unexpected ways. The reason is simple: waterfall plans constrain the freedom of future participants, leading them to resent and rebel against the grand plan in predictable ways. By contrast, agile models empower future participants in a project, catalyzing creativity and unpredictable new value.
The engineering term for the serendipitous, empowering gap between running code and governing vision has now made it into popular culture in the form of a much-misunderstood idea: perpetual beta.
In particular, two activities emerged as being significantly correlated with increasing individual absorptive capacity and personal innovation: “idea scouting” and “idea connecting.” In an earlier paper that two of us coauthored, we defined an idea scout as an employee who looks outside the organization to bring in new ideas. An idea connector, meanwhile, is someone who can assimilate the external ideas and find opportunities within the organization to implement these new concepts.
Jobs believed that serendipitous exchanges fueled innovation.
The more diverse a person’s social network, the more likely that person is to be innovative. A diverse network provides exposure to people from different fields who behave and think differently. Good ideas emerge when the new information received is combined with what a person already knows. But in today’s digitally connected world, many relationships are formed and maintained online through public social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Increasingly, employees are using such platforms for work-related purposes.
This means that if you are a Twitter user with the goal of improving your innovation performance, you need to maintain a diverse network while also developing your information assimilation and exploitation skills.
We envision a new economic engine composed of collaboration and community, in contrast to the silos and secrecy of the 19th/20th century economy.
Coworking is redefining the way we do work. Inspired by the participatory culture of the open source movement and the empowering nature of IT, we are building a more sustainable future. We are a group of connected individuals and small businesses creating an economy of innovation and creativity in our communities and worldwide. We envision a new economic engine composed of collaboration and community, in contrast to the silos and secrecy of the 19th/20th century economy.
We have the talent. We just need to work together. Different environments need to overlap, to connect and to interact in order to transform our culture. In order to create a sustainable community based on trust, we value:
- collaboration over competition
- community over agendas
- participation over observation
- doing over saying
- friendship over formality
- boldness over assurance
- learning over expertise
- people over personalities
- “value ecosystem” over “value chain”
This new economy cannot thrive without engaging the larger business, creative, entrepreneurial, governmental, non governmental and technical communities together.
The explosion of coworking spaces is a physical symbol of the renewed belief in the security that comes from having a really broad and diverse network—what sociologist Mark S. Granovetter calls “the strength of weak ties.” Particularly for those in the information-based economy, job opportunities—like good ideas, as documented extensively at MIT’s Building 20—happen by bumping up against people and seeing where serendipity leads. Genuine friendships, it turns out, are the seed of a lot of the most fulfilling jobs of the 21st century.
In a sense, freelancers are scraping the parts of company life that sucked the life out of them—toxic culture, compulsory collaboration, unnecessary busy work, rigid business hours—and rebuilding the parts that fed them in friendlier, more flexible form. And it’s working.
They found that there were a wide variety of reasons for coworking happiness, but the most central were communities characterized by authenticity, autonomy, and diversity. They write: “Unlike a traditional office, coworking spaces consist of members who work for a range of different companies, ventures, and projects. Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in.”
The gospel of the new economy is the transformative power of a diverse, genuine network.
You have to bump into enough people that you eventually latch right on to your ideal collaborator.
We all crave community—both on and off the proverbial clock—but we want community born of bottom-up serendipity, not top-down mandates. We want to collaborate with people who work in fields and mediums totally unlike ours, people with different styles and backgrounds, people who push us to grow, not because they’re anticipating that quarterly evaluation, but because they want to do impactful work in the world. That’s the sort of social cohesion that a company picnic once a year simply can’t create, no matter how good the hot dogs.
In our Tale of Two Computers, the parent is a four-century-old computer whose basic architecture was laid down in the zero-sum mercantile age. It runs on paperware, credentialism, and exhaustive territorial claims that completely carve up the world with strongly regulated boundaries. Its structure is based on hierarchically arranged container-like organizations, ranging from families to nations. In this order of things, there is no natural place for a free frontier. Ideally, there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. It is a computer designed for stability, within which innovation is a bug rather than a feature.
We’ll call this planet-scale computer the geographic world.
The child is a young, half-century old computer whose basic architecture was laid down during the Cold War. It runs on software, the hacker ethos, and soft networks that wire up the planet in ever-richer, non-exclusive, non-zero-sum ways. Its structure is based on streams like Twitter: open, non-hierarchical flows of real-time information from multiple overlapping networks. In this order of things, everything from banal household gadgets to space probes becomes part of a frontier for ceaseless innovation through bricolage. It is a computer designed for rapid, disorderly and serendipitous evolution, within which innovation, far from being a bug, is the primary feature.
We’ll call this planet-scale computer the networked world.
The networked world is not new. It is at least as old as the oldest trade routes, which have been spreading subversive ideas alongside valuable commodities throughout history. What is new is its growing ability to dominate the geographic world. The story of software eating the world is the also the story of networks eating geography.
There are two major subplots to this story. The first subplot is about bits dominating atoms. The second subplot is about the rise of a new culture of problem-solving.
Source: A Tale of Two Computers
“Twitter helps to establish an authentic audience for my students. My students actively tweet their classroom learning, thoughts and inspirations daily. In addition, they post quality work to the feed, which fosters a greater sense of pride and ownership in their work. My ELL students are motivated to construct meaningful, fluent texts so that their message may be easily related to the reader. Students are also excited to receive live, constructive feedback from other students and teachers, globally. Involvement in Twitter enables global connections, a community of sharing and a receptive, broad audience to my students.”— Laurie Azzi, an elementary school teacher with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.
The results were remarkable. The employees who had used the tool became 31% more likely to find coworkers with expertise relevant to meeting job goals. Those employees also became 88% more likely to accurately identify who could put them in contact with the right experts. They made these gains by observing what their coworkers talked about on Jive-n and with whom. The group that had no access to the tool showed no improvement on either measure over the same period.
These tools can promote employee collaboration and knowledge sharing across silos. They can help employees make faster decisions, develop more innovative ideas for products and services, and become more engaged in their work and their companies.
Over the past two decades organizations have sought some of these benefits through knowledge management databases, but with limited success. That’s because determining who has expertise and understanding the context in which it was created are important parts of knowledge sharing. Databases do not provide that type of information and connection. Social tools do.
But we have found that companies that try to “go social,” as many of them call it, often fall into four traps. Here we’ll look at those traps and share recommendations for capitalizing on the promise of social tools.
Richard Hamming puts it yet another way in his essay You and Your Research:
I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don’t know quite know what problems are worth working on … He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. … [T]here is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder.
What both of them are saying is that producing brilliant work is heavily reliant on serendipity. Putting your nose to the grindstone will certainly get things done, but when you are working on cutting-edge problems with no predetermined path to success you derive inspiration through chance discoveries.
Both these men were probably relied on conversations with their brilliant colleagues to deliver them random insights. But they also had the advantage of working at the top of their games at Caltech  and Bell Labs, respectively. The common geek today relies on the Internet, especially community watering holes like HackerNews and Reddit, to keep abreast of “what the world is and what might be important”.
Most important ideas take a long time to evolve.
Good ideas usually come from the collision of smaller hunches.
When ideas take form in this hunch state, they need to collide with other hunches. Often times, the thing that turns a hunch into a real breakthrough is another hunch that’s lurking in somebody else’s mind. And you have to figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts.
The great driver of scientific innovation and technological innovation has been the historic increase in connectivity and our ability to reach out and exchange ideas with other people and to borrow other people’s hunches and combine them with out hunches and turn them into something new.
That’s the real lesson of where good ideas come from: that chance favors the connected mind.