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Create Your Own Luck – Engineering Serendipity

First published on mills-scofield.com

“Innovation is serendipity, so you don’t know what people will make.” – Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web.

How often do we hear our friends and family say “Oh! She is so lucky. She moves in the right circles”. Or “He is so lucky. He is always at the right place at the right time”. Beyond the tinge of jealousy that such messages communicate, also hides a subtle ring of despair. May people feel that no matter how hard they work or how capable they are, their spate of bad luck just keeps messing things up.

Luck is nothing but an attitude. Richard Wiseman, the author of “The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind”, defines luck as the outcome of how we deal with chance and that some people are just much better at it. ‘Unlucky’ people tend to be very apprehensive of the future, uncomfortable with change and want to control their circumstances. They tend to have set pre-defined expectations of how a situation should play out, often leading to disappointment. This is inevitable given how bad we are at predicting the future. ‘Lucky’ people, on the other hand, embrace the randomness of life with open arms and accept that change is the only constant in the equation of life.Serendipity becomes a way of life, with happenstance encounters evolving into friendships and business relationships. The ‘lucky’ ones make it much more likely that they will stumble on incredible events and be at the right place at the right time with the right people. Sometimes things work out.

Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University, observes that getting lucky gets much harder as we get older and wiser, not because the game of life has changed but rather because how we play the game has. We get wiser with age and armed with experience, we form very strong convictions on how the world works. This applies to companies too. AT&T, which traces its origins to original Bell Telephone Company, could not anticipate a change in behavior, blinded in part by its domain expertise in telecom infrastructure. A young startup, Whatsapp, figured out that we have changed the way we communicate and want to share images, video and audio media over the internet across multiple platforms. At the start of the year, Whatsapp had more than 450 million users, all built and supported with a team of just 32 engineers.

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