Have you ever run into the right person at just the right time? Have you meet a person who has the knowledge to help you solve a problem, or who provides the right information to help you with an issue you are trying to tackle. You may have not been looking for the person, but you just stumbled upon them. That is serendipity.
Attracting What We Were Not Looking For
Serendipity- The simple definition of serendipity is finding what we didn’t know what we were looking for. It is unexpected encounters with people and they knowledge they posses.
But what if, instead of accidentally stumbling into a serendipitous encounter, you could attract or draw these people to you--a form of purposeful serendipity? We would be able to attract whom we need to learn from—and attraction is a powerful force.
I have advocated that technology and other key drivers have created an environment in which individual Learning Communities can be networked with, not only other Learning Communities, but also useful individuals such as specialists, researchers, academics, consultants, etc., physically and virtually. I call this model the Networked Learning Collaborative.
Authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison explain why attraction, or purposefully shaping serendipitous encounters is so important in their book The Power of Pull. The reason that the NLC is so powerful is because it seeks to attract the people with the knowledge we need to meet our knowledge or learning needs at that moment.
A NLC attracts those people who know what we need, who have wrestled with our current issues, and who have the tacit knowledge we need to meet the challenges we are currently facing and wrestling with.
The Networked Learning Collaborative attracts the people who posses the tacit knowledge we need.
Attraction- “…techniques focused for drawing people or resources to us that we were not even aware existed but that prove to be relevant and valuable.”
The Super Node
Each member of a NLC becomes a super node. Each person is the portal to the network. The person is an autonomous communication and collaboration node. Each member can potentially leverage not only their network, but also the network of others who are in their network. This principle is known as Metcalfe’s Law. The number of potential connections between nodes grows more quickly than the number of nodes. The total value of the network where each node can reach every other node in the network grows with the square of the number of nodes. In other words, when NLC members connect their networks, it creates more value than the sum of networks independently.
Our networks can help us attract serendipity.
“We need serendipitous encounters with people because of the importance of the ideas these people carry with them and the connections they have. People carry tacit knowledge. You can’t learn brain surgery just from a text…you need to stand next to someone who already knows and learn by doing. Tacit knowledge exists only in people’s heads.”
Serendipitous encounters become a rich flow of tacit knowledge.
“…serendipitous encounters with people prove to be more fruitful that an isolated encounter with new objects or data. We not only have the opportunity to access the tacit knowledge other people have gained from their experiences—and to share our own—but can begin to create relationships that may themselves spawn new tacit knowledge as we begin to collaborate on areas of shared interest.”
Think about how many times you have attended a staff development or training session and left thinking, “Okay, but what do I do next.” You need the tacit knowledge of someone who has been there and done that. You need someone to show you how, share his or her experience, and put it in a real life context for you.
Networked Learning Collaboratives help attract people who have knowledge in the challenge, problem, or situation you face. They are fellow travelers down these learning and knowledge avenues. And, as the authors state, fellow travelers amplify us.
“If you are exploring a new territory—an edge—it’s very helpful to learn from the experience of others in similar contexts. Serendipitous encounters thus help amplify our efforts by connecting us with our fellow explorers—exactly the people who can help us in our own explorations.”
One of the benefits of tacit knowledge flows from our fellow travelers is that it cuts down on the time we might waste. We know that every moment is precious. There is not a moment to waste when it comes to meeting the needs of our organizations, churches, and teams. Attracting tacit knowledge through our network creates a high rate of return on our attention.
Return On Attention- ROA
“In a world where attraction and return on attention—defined as the value gained relative to the time and attention invested—are becoming increasingly important, those who master the techniques required to shape serendipity will likely profit far more than those who simply wait for it to surface.”
Shaping serendipity involves the blending of three elements: environments, practices, and preparedness. We will look at those in a coming post.
Ongoing Connections- Building Relationships
“Serendipity becomes much more than a one-time encounter or an end in itself: It becomes the crucial means of access to rich flows of tacit knowledge both now and in the future.”
The other benefit to attracting people through our Networked Learning Collaborative is that we create more than just one time encounters, but mutually reinforcing and benefiting relationships. While you may learn something today, you may have something to teach tomorrow. You create Lateral Wisdom.