Serendipity is such a strange word.
No long ago I didn’t know its meaning, but the idea behind is something I knew and practiced for years already.
The meaning of serendipity
What serendipity means is that you basically discover something important by doing or thinking about something else which can even be totally unrelated.
How I became a blogger, for example, is totally due to serendipity.
I didn’t really have any interest in writing or blogging. I just wanted to advertise the product of my company I was in charge of when I started. Because of that, I got the idea that by writing articles which would teach and explain the product to people, I could also direct them to the product’s website and interest them about the software.
Because of that, I started to write the key things I knew that have helped me to start in Finite element area and to write them on a blog. I forced myself to write an article per week to keep the blog going and my audience satisfied (In fact, I had no audience at all, but I was imagining that I had a lot of people reading already).
And, not far after, people really started to come to the blog and post some comments to thank me for what they learned from me.
I became a blogger by serendipity
But that’s not all… In fact, when I think about it, my life is like filled by serendipity.
- How I went to study engineering without even knowing what was the job of an engineer.
- How I studied Japanese because I wanted to prove my sister that she didn’t really have to take this master at the university to speak Japanese, and how I finished by falling in love with Asian culture, learn Chinese, marry a Chinese woman, study in China for 3.5 years, learn Korean and then work in Korea for 4.5 years (If I didn’t choose to learn Japanese, probably none of this would have happened).
- How I made a presentation about the french masters of photography in China without knowing anything about photography and then falling in love with their ideas and becoming a (self-proclaimed) street photographer who exposed his photos in the streets of Beijing.
Sometimes, life brings experiences that have the power to change your view of the world totally, teach you valuable lessons, and bring to you more joy and achievement than you ever thought possible.
The conclusion that I had from those experiences is that you cannot always plan or predict everything that will happen to you.
Accept that not everything can be planned
It’s tempting sometimes to think that success comes from deep thinking about your goal, your purpose and then carving your own way to it through the obstacle with sheer force, but that’s just a plain simplification of what really happens in reality.
In reality, there are doubts, fears, mistakes… the path we choose to take is sometimes the wrong path and we have to change our direction. You just cannot « predict » those things until they really happen, because you simply don’t know.
What we have in our head at each instant is just a portion of a map. Sometimes the map is not clear enough. And sometimes, we simply have to go out of the map and venture inside unknown territory with the tools and the weapons we have. Try what we can do and discover new things.
The question that changed my way to learn
A question that I had for a long time in my head was:
« If we don’t know what we don’t know, how can we actually discover what we need to know that we don’t know to advance in the right direction and reach our goal? »
I know, it sounds complex…but I got an answer (maybe there are other ways too, but this is the only way I found because no one I asked had an answer to this question)
How to practice “serendipitous learning”
- First, we have to categorize the goals we want to achieve in a certain category of things. For example, if my goal is to get more sales, from my limited standpoint, I understand that this is a problem either linked to marketing or to sales, so I have to learn about either marketing or sales (or both).
- Secondly, I have to find the best experts in this area and read everything those masters had to say (It takes time and determination, and this is where most of other people stop)
- Thirdly, as my vision expands with the things I learnt from those experts, I get a clearer vision of the map and of the things I had to learn in addition to becoming even better. If you want to become really good about a topic, the only thing you have to do is to focus on the details and become obsessed with learning everything that exists about it. Concentrate on the things you really need to know now, discard or keep in reserve the things you need to learn about later.
Using this routine every day creates a habit to learn more and more and your map extends slowly without you ever realizing it. You become aware of the things you didn’t know you didn’t know.
This is not an “efficient” process
What is important is to accept first that it is not an « efficient » process. There is no « goal » because you don’t know how far you can go towards this road and how good you can really become.
That’s « serendipity ».
I didn’t know this word, but when I read its definition in the dictionary, I discovered that it more or less matched the way I used to learn new useful things.
How can I apply that in my life?
If you want to have fun with « serendipitous learning », here’s a recommendation about what you can do:
1. Pick a topic you are totally unfamiliar with. Maybe even a topic you use to think that it’s « not for you » or that you will « never be interested about ».
2. Find the greatest masters in this area (through internet or Amazon, you can probably find the best books on the topic)
3. Read 2-3 of their books
4. Not the most important ideas inside and think about how those ideas could be applied to improve your life.
5. Ponder it deeply every day or week.
6. Wait for the breakthrough (It generally comes when you await it the least).
I hope all of this helps you in some way.
And even if you don’t agree 100% with this concept of « serendipitous learning », at least consider it and make a place for it in at least 1% of what you do. You will see some change because sometimes 1% is just what you need to improve. (As James Altucher is saying, 1% cumulates over time at the end, you have much more than 1%).