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On Serendipity

How do bands form?

I’ve long been fascinated by this question. What are the odds that the Beatles could actually come together? And is there anything that we can do to not only accelerate that kind of unlocking of creative potential, but to actually engineer its maximization?

And I’m not talking about New Kids on the Block, or other [s]exploitative measures designed to achieve a simulacrum of engineered success.

Most people hate their jobs. They watch the clock. They drive someplace to do something they’d rather not be doing, and when they’re done, they drive back so they can do something else entirely, or forget their troubles in rituals like binge eating and drinking.

They find their coworkers boring and shallow. Workplace parodies like Office Space and The Office reveal deep-seated anxieties about the nature of our work and our workplaces. Even worse, we train people to accept that kind of quotidian boredom in our schools: factory-style learning produces workplace-style disengagement. No wonder there’s such a problem with bullying: the teachers bully the kids, and the kids bully each other. Both are bored, cynical, and disengaged. Bullying is, by far, the most interesting and engaging thing going on in most of our schools. No wonder kids latch onto it.

If four kids from Liverpool can form the Beatles, what can four kids from Baltimore or Boston do? Arguably, there’s as much locked-up potential everywhere. Just like Einstein proved that Mass is Energy, and the conditions for conversion need to be just right to unleash it, I think we can prove that unlocking human potential is just a question of setting up the right conditions.

Our schools aren’t working. Anything good that happens in schools, public or private, happens essentially by accident. Kids might stumble into one or two good teachers or engage in a similar number of creative projects that they actually care about. Tragically, many kids never get that chance, even once.

Our workplaces aren’t working. With some significant exceptions, workplaces are dull and destroy the spirit. The few, exceptional, entrepreneurial workplace environments that promote any level of self-actualization should be celebrated. They do exist. But for the most part, we’re a society of zombies living for the weekend. That shit is broken.

Coworking, entrepreneurship, and community-powered endeavors are leading the way in the right direction. They help accelerate the serendipity required for self-actualization and engagement. The best chance we have of unlocking a Beatles-like level of creativity is through things like coworking and barcamps. One of the innovators behind them, Chris Messina, has said they provide “accelerated serendipity,” and that coworking is like “Barcamp every day.”

But we can do better. Why is it that the best we can do is to try to accelerate serendipity? What might we do to engineer it? Acceleration just means we’re bumping into each other in random ways more rapidly. If we engineer that bumping, can we achieve better results faster?

How to do this? I’m not sure. Certainly being conscious of that goal, and breaking out of old patterns are key. More people who are presently unfulfilled in their work need to quit their jobs and seek local like-minded spirits. We need to find ways for teams to come together more reliably.

But John, Paul, George and Ringo can teach us something else. They didn’t say, “I’ll form the Beatles if someone can introduce me to four world class bandmates and ensure it’ll be a success.” They just put themselves out there and started playing in places where an audience, and other musicians, could find them. And they unlocked one of the most powerful creative forces in recent human artistic history.

What can you do if you put yourself out there and let others find you? What can you do if you try? You may never know. And your kids will never know as long as you’ve got them on a treadmill of team sports and factory schooling. How are you letting your kids put themselves out there creatively? Or do they have no time for that?

We’re pushing our delusions down into the lives of our kids, and it’s immoral. Just because you have no time to take creative risks, don’t force it on your kids. Leave some holes in their schedules. Knock it down to just one team sport. Give them time to play.

And give yourself time to play. Maybe, if we all could open ourselves up to the possibilities right in our own backyards we could use today’s technology to truly the maximize formation of creative teams. The Beatles didn’t have Craigslist. Maybe if they had, they could have found a good drummer.

  • Just_Danny

    Our parents made the greatest sacrifice. They chose each other instead of the rest of the world. We are a perfect product that has gone the distance to exist by the reproductive process. A unique individual and 2 individuals which catalyzed the procees.

    The greatest sacrifice for one unique outcome. W can take this literally and treat our potential outcomes this way. We can engineer serendipity.

    The sacrifice of an individual is made for the survival of the species as a whole and is a natural process. Every individual is infinitely seperated from the species.

    Again we can take this literally and put ourselves aside for the greater good and the highest potential of human interactions. If and only if we are doing the greatest potential for human interactions then we can sacrifice other potentials making sure the marriage of human interactions does occur for the perfections expected to fit the survival of the human species.

  • michael dobbie

    we need to create better local community spaces for serendipity to occur, co-working works for freelancers and professional or even semi-prof creatives but for true serendipity you need a broader more diverse spectrum of people to potentially interact… how about interesting local neighborhood social spaces that are part coffee shop, public house, co-working, maker-space, library, salon, town hall, resource and knowledge/idea sharing center… spaces that will attract random, curious, creative people, people who want something local to get involved in, under-employed as well employed, sustainability types as well as entrepreneurs/business minded folks, families, elders…
    i'm working on such a concept here in seattle