The serendipity principle – or the art of a happy coincidence
People generally believe that solid business plans, an iron will and a good team are the recipe for a successful pioneer project, but they rarely talk about the fact that chance also plays a role. That’s why we’re doing here – and giving you tips and examples along the way.
Serendipity describes the happiness of an unexpected discovery and literally means «finding without seeking». An awareness of chance events is also a key mindset for founders, one that can lead to success. In the rest of this article, we’ll show you how to encourage happy coincidences:
1. Talk, talk, talk …
Engaging in discussions, networking and tapping into unexpected synergies, too, are key success factors for young entrepreneurs. But dialogue with the target group is also crucial. Talking to their target audience accelerated the initial phase of the Expedition Future project, for instance. This project designs courageous policies through collaborative approaches and, in its early days, the project partners spent a lot of time talking to their target group about opportunities and visions. They had not yet set out the details of what they wanted to tackle, so when a politician said to them, «I’m in, what shall we do next?», the project partners were initially stumped for an answer. Then, they seized the opportunity with both hands and decided what their next step would be. According to Paolo Marioni, this was an important lesson, and one they are happy to share: «Talk to as many people as possible and make the most of every opportunity! After this, we were able to put our foot on the accelerator, shape the product and get the ball rolling. If we’d waited, the next chance might not have come along as quickly.»
2. … and: listen …
Talking to the target group is fundamental, but listening carefully is also just as important. On occasion, the target audience might have needs and interests that neither they nor developers can foresee.
The team at Scandens did indeed listen carefully. This project focuses on simplifying the planning and implementation of energy-oriented building renovations. The growing awareness of the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, increasing energy prices, generous subsidies and new regulations mean that service providers, such as energy consultants and planners, are swamped with enquiries. As a result, the project team concluded: «At present, it is not private householders who need to be convinced and supported – it is service providers who need digital solutions to make them more efficient. Our software solution enables them to holistically optimise the renovation with just a few clicks and save a huge amount of time, without impinging on quality,» says Diego Sigrist from Scandens.
3. … and: observe …
The Plentii project turned a chance observation to its benefit: non-profits enter their needs (donations of money, time or physical objects) on the Plentii platform so supporters can see where they can help. The project team realised that giving non-profits the chance to determine what they needed was also a valuable tool that let them tighten up their needs and better plan their resources. Since then, Plentii has been investing more time in assistance so plans can be more precise and communication more transparent. In turn, this has a positive impact on both target audiences. «True, it’s not a new business model,» says Micaela Marques Pinto from Plentii, «but it has greatly strengthened the central concept of our platform – which is of major significance for a pioneering project like ours – and has given the team lots of self-confidence and motivation!»
4. … and: keep going!
Innovative ideas often don’t meet with the anticipated reception from the off. You need stamina to keep your courage even when times get tough and to continue travelling through uncharted territory. We advise striking a balance between bravely forging ahead in a particular direction and having curiosity and openness towards things that crop up along the way. Sometimes, detours lead you to your destination – just a different one than originally planned.
The team at the SimpleTrain project, which organises sustainable trips by rail, took this to heart. Back in February 2020, they looked to be on the cusp of a successful financial year – then COVID-19 came along. It initially seemed like a disaster for the start-up, but it turned into a positive development: it freed up time for the team to focus on pressing ahead with the online booking tool they had planned. They built an entire web application over the course of just a few months. From a resource perspective, this was only possible because they hardly had to process any bookings at all. The new tool was presented to the public in April 2021 – just when people were booking their summer holidays. A mere three months later, bookings sky-rocketed and the start-up set new records.
#MoveTheDate Switzerland was also left facing a similar challenge. This project is committed to ensuring a sustainable future through the conservative use of resources; its work is based on discussions among people. «The pandemic really hit us hard. That said, we didn’t spend a long time clinging to our old plans. We immediately focused on the digital development of #MoveTheDate Switzerland, created content and set up a community with innovative people,» said Simone Alabor, initiator of the project. This underlying work helped the team, who can now draw on it in all kinds of ways.
And to wrap things up: appreciating happy coincidences is good for your health
A study published in 2009 by researchers led by Alex Wood at the University of Stirling illustrated the impact of appreciating fortunate situations. It found that people who consciously recognise positive coincidences are more self-confident, have more stable friendships and partnerships, and handle crises better. (Source: Wirtschaftswoche)
In the same vein, here’s to lots of happy coincidences!
Pioneering projects generally look very different than planned once the initial phase has been completed. In chapter 3.4 of our manual, you’ll find tips on how to make use of happy coincidences and a handful of tricks to help protect yourself from the risks and side effects of chance.