Finding Serendipity And Sparking Creativity

Finding Serendipity And Sparking Creativity

Some ideas for facilitating serendipitous moments, and for more effective alternatives to creative brainstorming.

Paloma M. Vazquez
  • 27 july 2010

The slower days of summer seem to have also sparked a discussion of how to best cultivate creativity – and not just in the advertising community. After reading a Newsweek piece on why brainstorming doesn’t work (and what does), we found an ideahive post on provoking serendipity particularly timely – and serendipitous.

The piece defines Serendipity as

“The emergence of desirable novelty from a chance encounter, the discovery of something wonderful, unknown and unpredictable. It is the act of unexpected cross-pollination, the seed of something new.”

Some suggested ways to nurture conditions for serendipity to occur include:

Gather requisite diversity:

  • Seek originality in each person; find the positive deviants.
  • Bring people together with shared values, focus, and high cognitive diversity
  • Add novelty – people who don’t already know each other
  • Find people who are actively seeking serendipity, they often have large active networks
  • Serendipity occurs when you go looking for it and tap into various different resources; it just needs recognition

Nurture a sharing, evolutionary culture:

  • Model a culture that values openness, collaboration, social, playfulness, the future, communication, exploration, learning, diversity and creativity
  • Think improv: the key to nurturing the emergence of the collective flow is to keep it fluid (and have fun with it)
  • Seek coherence not synchronization

Weave the network together:

  • Move the culture from: attention -> awareness -> caring -> engagement
  • Encourage parallel communication to flow
  • Once the network gains coherence, a meta neural network emerges

Issue a provocation:

  • Ask the right question/s to stimulate the collective evolutionary potential of the network

As a complement, the Newsweek piece suggested some tested alternatives to brainstorming that could better cultivate creativity:

  • Don’t tell someone to ‘be creative’ – ask them to ‘be different’: The challenge to “do something only you would come up with—that none of your friends or family would think of” saw the number of creative responses double in experiments.
  • Get moving: Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise; creativity is no exception.
  • Take a break: Multi-tasking works when you have more than one creative project to complete. More projects get completed on time when you allow yourself to switch between them if solutions don’t come immediately.
  • Reduce screen time: Studies encourage us to turn off the TV – particularly for kids. Replace at least a portion of the average 3 hours of daily TV time with creative activities – and let kids develop a sense of creative self-efficacy through play.
  • Explore other cultures: Those who have lived abroad outperform others on creativity tasks. Creativity is also higher on average for first- or second-generation immigrants and bilinguals. The theory: cross-cultural experiences force people to adapt and be more flexible. But for those who can’t become expats, just studying another culture can help.
  • Follow a passion – at the expense of well-roundedness: Studies on children’s progression into adult creative careers found that kids did best when they were allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly. By contrast, kids given superficial exposure to many activities don’t have the same centeredness to overcome periods of difficulty.
  • Ditch the suggestion box: Formalized suggestion protocols actually stifle innovation because employees feel that their ideas go into a black hole of bureaucracy. Instead, employees need to be able to put their own ideas into practice.

The Idea Hub: “The Subtle Art of Provoking Serendipity”

Newsweek: ” Forget Brainstorming”

Image by Veer.

Veer has recently relaunched its site,, with a simplified, easy to use interface allowing for enhanced and simplified image search.  The site, which is a go-to source for creative and affordable stock photography, illustrations, fonts and merchandise, helps people add style to business, marketing, and personal design projects.


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