Can you design for serendipity?

Successful people will often tell you that their success came through hard work. That they had to put in the hours, the money, the time, the resource, to make things work. That they had to compromise and make hard choices, that they were always focused on their goals and fought hard to not be distracted. The shiny veneer that we often see at the end is the result of years of hard work and graft. Success, comes from working hard at success being the desired outcome. Everything is geared towards it, and if it does happen and it does come, then can be accounted for because of these things.

But if a person is not successful, and their business does not fly, and they end up folding, do we argue that the above things were not in place? Some people will, and they’ll be just as right as those people who say, luck played a part. Before social apps like Snapchat and Instagram became unicorns, they were out there competing like everyone else. They were doing the same things that other apps were doing, they just did them differently and in their own way. So how much was hard work, and how much was luck?

In organisations, we often talk about the need for there to be moral leadership, for diversity and inclusion to be high on the agenda, for people to have empathy, for people to deliver a great customer experience, for people to be innovative and the freedom to be creative. High and mighty lofty ideals that many work towards, few succeed, and others are just trying to do a good job.

So, the question is, can you design for these things to happen as a matter of course? That is, could you design a workplace where not doing things in the desired way just wasn’t an option?

This is a proper thinking out loud piece by the way. No right answers, no wrong ones, just thinking.

So let’s take moral leadership as an example. How would you, or could you design workplace practice to happen in such a way that being a moral leader (or any other ideal) was the only thing you could do – regardless of your own prejudices and biases? (This is totally dependent, of course, on the will of the senior leaders to want for this to happen).

Where when a group of people need to make a decision, they have such guidance, such clarity on their shared values and such insight into the impact or consequence of their decisions that they could only make a decision which was a moral one – not one driven by other personal or selfish reasons. How could that work? What would you need in place for decisions like that to take place?

Then move further. When someone is taking a call with a frustrated and annoyed customer, how do they resolve the situation which is the right thing to do, because they have seen others do the right thing, and they know that by doing the right thing they will be rewarded and recognised for the solution?

Or when a decision for restructure needs to take place, how do you create an environment where a team of people help those at risk and those being affected act in ways which are helpful and useful to them and causes as little disruption as possible, because that’s the best thing to do, and it’s the right way to act, and it’s what is expected and what is measured.

If you were to design such a workplace where such things happened, what would that mean? How would or could you succeed in such a place? Can you design for serendipity to happen?

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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