Coincidence or serendipity

On our morning walk my Golden Labrador, Benson, encountered a black Labrador heading towards us and some over exuberant play fighting ensued. I whistled and called my dog and the other owner did likewise. “George” she hollered. “Benson”, I responded, and as if to order, iTunes shuffled “On Broadway” into my headphones.

Pure coincidence of course, and my apparently spontaneous burst of laughter clearly bemused the other dog owner. But it led me to ponder the difference between coincidence and serendipity.

Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity based on a Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, in which it’s heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.

Particularly in the advertising world, I have frequently experienced this phenomenon, so permit me a nostalgic example to highlight the practical difference between pure coincidence and serendipity, and to illustrate its relevance to success.

I was “not in quest of” a jingle for a jeans commercial when back in the late ‘70’s I met the young Lord David Dundas at a party, but the fact that my company was preparing a pitch for one was in my consciousness and probably influenced the direction of the casual chat I had with my new acquaintance. I learned that this nascent composer was toying with a song called “I put my blue jeans on”. This happy accident was followed by lots of hard work and development that subsequently helped Saatchi’s win the pitch, Brutus to leap to success in the jeans market and David Dundas to get a Number 3 hit for his debut recording.

It is of course unwise to rely on this type of random coincidence to achieve your goals, but it is equally unwise to cut yourself off from such opportunities. The highest achievements are often a balance of a strategic planned approach, perseverance AND good fortune.

Serendipity occurs as a result of communication. It comes from ‘putting out’, being open, and listening for interesting connections.

The coincidence that occurred on my morning walk had, on the face of it, no practical value other than amusement. But it prompted this posting, which perhaps may lead to…well who knows what?

Ron Leagas.  November 2013