I don’t know about you but I have always loved the word “Serendipity” but if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure precisely what it meant until I heard someone give a really interesting talk about it one day about four or five years ago. It appears that I wouldn’t have been the only one to struggle with a good summary of its meaning, as it was voted one of the ten English words “hardest to translate” by a British translation company in 2004.
Depending which dictionary you refer to, Serendipity can mean a “fortunate happenstance” or a “pleasant surprise” amongst other interpretations, and owes its origin to Horace Walpole, who in 1754, wrote a letter to a friend making reference to the Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.
One of my favourite definitions however, is “the fact of finding interesting or valuable things by chance” and alongside this definition is a whole collection of synonyms such as agreeable, attractive, be better than sex (wow!), blessing, brighten, do somebody the world of good, dreamy, enchant, engaging, jolly, lighten, lovely, and finally, tickle.
More recently, I’ve been thinking about Serendipity a lot more than normal and you may be surprised to know that Serendipity is rather highly regarded in the world of business, especially when it comes to legendary deal-making or rather deals that were never done. Such as when Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page realised they needed to choose between their company and their PhD work at Stanford. Google was only nine months old and they decided to pursue their academic careers instead. The tried to sell their search engine for a mere $1 million and were turned down, not only by Yahoo but a whole host of others. They decided to keep it anyway. I doubt they were celebrating at the time.
Or how about Paolo Pellegrini, (what a great name!) who was fired from the investment bank Lazard Freres. He took a low-level position at a hedge fund after a lucky phone call. The banker, keen to prove his worth, found a chart that showed how the housing market was overpriced. His boss at the time, John Paulson, invested heavily and made $15 billion in a year. “I love that chart,” Paulson would keep saying — but has proved unable to find more of them.
I could go on. The truth is, we all have stories of Serendipity but most of us fail to acknowledge them as such, especially if we’re still on the “wrong side of the pleasant surprise” so to speak.
Why not take a minute though, to think of times gone by when actually, the thing that appeared to be a pain in the proverbial turned out to be a bona fide blessing in disguise, further down the road.