Making Your Own Luck

March 30, 2018 by FlexPro

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling just a little bit lucky.  And around St. Patrick’s Day, who doesn’t appreciate the luck of the Irish? In my case, my luck wasn’t anything big or exciting like having a winning lottery ticket, but it was still enough to make me stop and think about how funny life can be sometimes. Recently I was mentioning to a friend that there was a book I wanted to read. She tells me to hang on a second and runs out to her car. Next thing I know, the book is in my hands and she’s telling me she meant to bring it in to me because she thought I would like it! I’m sure we all have stories of happy coincidences like that – where serendipity seems to occur and things go our way even when we didn’t expect them to. By definition serendipity is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way“. I love the randomness of it and how in our over-structured and over-scheduled world it can just pop up and change everything.

Throughout history events that occurred by chance or accident have had a huge impact, especially in the area of scientific discovery. One of the most well known is the development of penicillin which occurred when Scottish biologist Sir Alexander Fleming accidentally left open a petri dish. A blue-green mold formed and killed all of the surrounding bacteria. That mold contained the antibiotic called penicillin. Other occurrences include the accidental discovery of x-rays, microwaves, Play-Doh, Vaseline, the pacemaker, the Slinky, Velcro, Post-In Notes, Silly Putty, safety glass and even corn flakes!

The interesting thing about serendipity is that at its origin it meant something a little different. Back in 1754,  Horace Walpole was fascinated by a fairy tale in which three prince’s had, what we would call today a superpower, in observation. As the fairy tale goes, the three princes throughout their travels were always accidentally discovering things they had not been in search of. Walpole called their talent serendipity and considered it a skill and not just random luck. In the 1990’s by Dr. Sanda Erdelez actually did a study on 100 people to determine if people created their own serendipity. She discovered there were three different types of people:

Non-encounterers” who were so structured and rigid in their ways that they failed to see opportunities and occurrences that appeared.

Occasional-encounterers” who periodically had moments of serendipity. They were less rigid in their ways than their non-encounterer peers.

Super-encounterers” who regularly found themselves at the receiving end of good fortune. These people tended to be most perceptive and open to the idea that happy coincidences can happen when life throws you a curve ball.

So you’re probably asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with project management?”. Well, you know that as PM’s we’re always following a plan. We map out the project, put our project plans together, adhere to a budget, follow a time-line and hopefully in the end fulfill our obligations to the client in accordance to the project parameters. And, of course, everything always goes exactly the way we expected. NOT! Anyone who has been a project manager knows that the plan is rarely without unforeseen obstacles. We need to be flexible and it’s critical to be open minded to the fact that when a project goes off the rails, it’s simply an opportunity to find a new path. And when that new path turns out to be even better than the original plan, well that’s serendipity. We can’t be so set in our ways and so intent on following the plan that we don’t see other, often better opportunities that arise. Progress will never be made without thinking outside the box and some of our greatest inventions would have never occurred if everything had gone according to plan. Can you imagine life today without a chocolate chip cookie? You can thank Ruth Graves Wakefield for running out of baker’s chocolate while making her chocolate specialty cookies at the Tollhouse Inn, in Whitman, MA. By breaking up a bar of Nestlé’s semisweet chocolate to use instead, she inadvertently invented the Nestlé’s Tollhouse Cookie! The guests loved them and almost 90 years later, so do we!

I guess what I’ve learned is that the more open minded I am and the more willing I am to take a different path, the more serendipity seems to find me. I love finding a new adventure and learning new things. I’ve also found that by keeping myself open to new experiences, good things tend to find me! Luck, fate, coincidence, happy accident or serendipity – call it what you like – I love when it happens and I hope that it happens to you too! I’d love to hear how serendipity has found you or your project team. Drop me an e-mail and share your story!

-Lynn Faughey, FlexPro COO

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