Thinkers50 Curated LinkedIn Live with Christian Busch

 

Thinkers50 Radar thinker Christian Busch is a world-leading expert on innovation, purpose-driven leadership, and cultivating serendipity. He directs the CGA Global Economy Program at New York University, and also teaches at the London School of Economics. Previously, he co-directed the LSE’s Innovation Lab and co-founded the Sandbox Network, a global community of young innovators, as well as Leaders on Purpose, an organization convening leading CEOs. Christian’s bestselling book, The Serendipity Mindset provides a unique take on the art and science of creating good luck.

Transcript:

Des Dearlove:
Hello, welcome to another Thinkers50 Curated session. I’m Des Dearlove.

Stuart Crainer:
And I’m Stuart Crainer and we are the founders of Thinkers50, the world’s most reliable resource for identifying ranking and sharing the leading management ideas of our age.

Des Dearlove:
Our belief in the power of ideas has been the foundation of our work since we launched the first ever global ranking management Thinkers in 2001. We’ve published a new Thinkers50 ranking every two years since, and it remains the premier ranking of its kind.

Stuart Crainer:
So we are excited that 2021, a year in which fresh thinking and human ingenuity are more important than ever, is also a Thinkers50 year. Nominations are now open for both the ranking of Management Thinkers and the Distinguished Achievement Awards, which the Financial Times calls the Oscars of Management Thinking, no less.

Des Dearlove:
The award short list will be announced at the end of July and the years finale on the 15th and 16th of November, will bring all the excitement of a new ranking and the naming of our Thinkers50, 2021 Award winners.

Stuart Crainer:
Now, our guest today is another brilliant member of the Thinkers50 Radar Community of up and coming thinkers, Christian Busch. Christian directs the CGA Global Economy Program at New York University and teaches on purpose driven leadership, entrepreneurship, emerging markets, and social innovation at NYU and at the London School of Economics.

Des Dearlove:
Christian is the author of the Serendipity Mindset, The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck. And he spent a decade exploring how we can use uncertainty as a pathway to more joyful, purposeful, and successful lives. In this book, he reveals the secrets behind the hidden force that rules the universe, serendipity.

Stuart Crainer:
Our format is that Christian will present for 10 minutes or so, and then we’ll have a conversation. So please send in your questions and where you’re viewing us from at any time. Christian, the virtual stage is yours.

Christian Busch:
Well, thank you so much Des and Stuart for the wonderful introduction. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are in the world. It’s wonderful to be here with you today. I’d love to take you on a journey, a journey of this wonderful, beautiful concept of serendipity and really trying to discover what can we do to have more of it in our lives? How can we create this unexpected good luck in our lives? To give you a bit of context, I used to be this kid in high school who was kicked out of school. I had to repeat a year and then transferred this lifestyle to my driving style, from the unofficial world record of how many dust bins you could knock over on your way to school.

And then one day I wasn’t so lucky anymore. I crashed into four parked cars. All cars completely destroyed, including my own. And I won’t forget the policeman who came to the scene and he was like, “Oh my God, he’s still alive.” And so this idea that I was supposed to be dead, that stuck with me. I had all these weird questions in my mind, if I would’ve died, was it all worth it? Did I do anything meaningful? Who would’ve come to my funeral? Like a lot of different, weird questions and it put me on this intense search for meaning. And I started reading this wonderful book that is still next to my bed on the bookshelf. That I reread recently in the COVID times, Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning, which is all about the question, how do we imbue meaning even in the toughest of circumstances? And what I realized when going through these different motions was that, what I enjoy doing the most is connecting ideas, connecting people and seeing how they somehow fit together.

And so in my journey as community builder, social developer, entrepreneur, and later as an academic, what I realized is that the most successful purpose driven, inspiring people, they seem to have something in common, which is that they somehow intuitively cultivate serendipity. They are somehow able to have more of these unexpected positive outcomes, and they somehow see more in unexpected moments and so I got really excited about the question of, what is it? So to be sure we are on the same page, here’s a couple of examples. This is probably one of the most successful ones, if anyone can guess what that might be. It’s usually a good sign if you don’t. So a couple of researchers, a couple of decades ago, they gave people medication against angina, the disease, and they realized that there was some kind of movement happening in male participants trousers.

And what would we usually do when we see that there’s something like this happening? We’ll probably say, “Oh my God, this is embarrassing. Oh my God, we should just ignore this.” But actually, they did the opposite. They said, “You know what? It’s unexpected that this movement is happening, but there might be a lot of men in the world who might have a problem in that department. So why don’t we develop a medication around this?” And this is how serendipitously Viagra evolved. Here’s another example, that’s actually where Stuart and I met the first time at Haier, in Shandong, in China, where there’s a company, they produce refrigerators, washing machines and so on. And at some point, farmers said, “Well, your washing machine’s always breaking down.” “Well, why is the washing machine breaking down?” Well, we’re trying to wash our potatoes in it and it doesn’t seem to work”

And so what would we usually do? We’ll probably tell them, “Well, don’t wash your potatoes in the washing machine, it’s not made for that.” They did the opposite. They said, “You know what? That’s unexpected, but there’s a lot of farmers in China so why don’t we build in a dirt filter and make it a potato washing machine?” And that’s how unexpectedly the potato washing machine emerged. There’s a lot of other examples, of course, especially during COVID, where you see breweries unexpectedly turning into hand sanitizer companies because they realize, “Oh, we can use our alcohol to essentially produce hand sanitizer and so on.”

The point here is, what all these examples have in common and if you think about maybe how you met the love of your life or your co-founder or your investor, there’s always some kind of unexpected trigger. Right? This moment of farmers saying, “The washing machine’s breaking down.” Or a movement being in male participants trousers, or you bumping into someone in the supermarket and feeling there might be something there, but then you have to do something with it. This kind of random moment is not enough. You need to connect the dots and do something with it, and then also have the tenacity to actually go through with it.

And so that is the beauty of serendipity. Serendipity is not about this blind luck that’s just about being born into a good family or something like that. It’s about the smart luck. It’s about the luck, that’s about seeing something in the moment and then imbuing meaning in it. It’s about creating more meaningful accidents, but also making accidents more meaningful. And so that’s really, the problem of course, that we miss that most of the time, we might not see it in the moment, or we might not be able to connect the dots.
To give an example how much actually, this is about how we look at the world. There’s a couple of really exciting experiments around how people who look in a certain way at the world tend to have more luck than other people. And that’s of course, only one of the aspects but for the sake of kick starting this conversation, I thought this is an interesting experiment, where a researcher took people who self-identify as very lucky. So people who say, “Good things tend to happen to me.” And people who tend to identify as very unlucky, so, “Bad things happen to me. I’m always in accidents.” And then he tells them, “Walk down the street, go into a coffee shop, sit down, grab a coffee, and then we’ll have our interview for the research.”

Now what he doesn’t tell them is, that there’s hidden cameras across the street or along the street. There’s a five pound note, so money in front of the coffee shop. And inside the coffee shop, the one table or the one chair that’s empty is next to this extremely successful businessman who can make big ideas happen. Now the lucky person walks down the street, sees the five pound note, picks it up, goes inside the coffee shop, orders a coffee, sits next to the businessman, engages the businessman, they exchange business cards, potentially, an opportunity coming out of it, we don’t know that part.

Now the unlucky person walks down the street, steps over the five pound note, so doesn’t see it, goes inside the shop, orders a coffee, also sits next to the businessman, ignores the businessman and that’s it. Now at the end of the day, they ask both people, “How was your day today?” And so the lucky person says, “Well, it was amazing. I found money in the street and made new friends and potentially, an opportunity coming out of it.” We don’t know that part. Now the unlucky person just says, “Well, nothing really happened.”

And we all know those people in our lives. Right? Who face exactly the same situations, maybe a couple where one just seems to have a little bit more luck than others. And so we can try to understand the counter-factuals, what could have happened. We can try to understand what is different in those kind of situations and then see that serendipity a lot of times, is about us seeing something in the moment. But then also a lot of times engaging, either with people or for closet introverts like myself, a lot of times it’s with calm sources. Right? It’s about seeing something in a bookshop and thinking, “Oh my God, we haven’t talked about this for ages, we should do a podcast about this.” Or seeing a movie and connecting the dots. Right?

And so it’s really about this idea that at the end of the day, the way we look at the world has a lot to do with actually, how much we have and how much luck we experience in the end. Of course, just as a caveat and I think that’s a conversation for itself, also that our starting positions of course, are very different. I do a lot of work in South Africa and in those contexts, of course, even if you have serendipity, you work very differently, much harder for it because you have structural constraints that hold you back, than me sitting here in the best village in New York and having access to education and networks and so on.

And so we also have to work on these systemic questions that in a way, hold a lot of people systemically back from having more serendipity, at the same time, as all of us have some kind of biases that are our own self-limiting beliefs. And so I’m always fascinated for example, by this bias that we tend to post rationalize. Right? I work a lot with CEOs and executive teams and what usually happens is people want to portray absolute control. Right? They want to be able to say, “I planned this, I did this, and this is exactly how it happened.” There’s this original plan like a linear line and then all of us know that the real experience usually is like this. And so if you are the CEO of a company, you might have a certain idea of where you’re going, but most likely part of that will still somehow emerge from some place.

And so one of the reasons I’m so excited about this work is to say, “You know what? Instead of pretending that we have it all figured out, instead of having this illusion of control that nobody buys anyways, how can we instead say, “It’s not a weakness to have unexpected, positive things come our way, it’s actually the sign of a positive corporate culture. It’s actually the sign of being able to cultivate an environment in which serendipity can happen more and as long as we connect that to our broader vision and mission, actually, that can be extremely useful.” And so that’s really what a lot of this work is about and I guess part of our conversation also, how do we do this?

And so I want to just mention two tactics, just to give you a bit of a taste of what are ways to actually cultivate serendipity in our lives. One of my absolute favorites is setting hooks, give you an example. There’s this wonderful entrepreneur in London, Oli Barrett, and if you would ask him something like the dreaded, what do you do, question? Right? This question, which puts you into a box. He wouldn’t just say, “I’m a technology entrepreneur.” He would say something like, “I’m a technology entrepreneur, recently started reading into the philosophy of science. But what I really enjoy doing is playing the piano.”

So what he’s doing here is giving you three potential hooks, where you could be like, “Oh my God, such a coincidence. I recently started hosting piano matinee, you should come by.” “Oh, my God, such a coincidence, my sister’s teaching on the philosophy of science. You should give a guest lecture.” The point is that we can use every interaction to see the couple of dots, to see the couple of potential things, where other people can connect the dots for us. And that is essentially, how we can create more of these meaningful accidents by really being aware of how to infect conversations with those kind of meaningful hooks.

A second point that I see a lot in companies especially, is that we recently did a study with 42 leading CEOs in the world. So we try to understand, what is it that makes a MasterCard or other big companies that somehow seem to be fit for the future, how do they do this? And one of the key themes that came out of it was to say, they’re extremely good at saying, “We know where we’re going.” Right? “We have this approximate vision of, we want to get 500 million people into the financial system, and here’s an approximate strategy. And I’m telling you already now that this strategy might evolve over time as we get new information.”

And so what this does is that as a leader, I can say, “I have a clear, clear idea of where we’re going.” But also I have the humility to say, “We will have more information and based on this, we will have to update.” And that gives people the license to create serendipity and to contribute to the bigger mission. So what this all is about philosophically, I wouldn’t be able to finish this presentation as a German, without a philosophical notion behind it.

I’ve been a huge fan of Viktor Frankl who has been a guiding post on this. And he really describes the philosophy behind serendipity without having ever talked about it, that at the end of the day, serendipity is all about potentiality. Serendipity is all about saying, “How do I respond to a particular stimuli? If there’s something happening that I can’t control, if there’s something random that’s happening, I can choose my response to that. And that responds defines my growth, my freedom, and my serendipity. And with this, thank you so much and I’m very much looking forward to all the conversation. Thinkers50 has been such a great part of this journey so I’m delighted and grateful to be here with you. Thank you.

Stuart Crainer:
All right. Thanks very much, Christian. It’s a fantastic area because it strikes to the heart of human behavior really, doesn’t it? I mean, aren’t you trying to encourage organizations really, to break the habit of a lifetime. I mean, all companies have been built around, as you said, about control, standardization, all the things that work against serendipity. It’s the polar opposite of what organizations in the last 100 years have been created to achieve.

Christian Busch:
That’s absolutely true. And I think that is what’s so interesting, that when I embark on that work, initially I thought, “Great, I’m essentially just giving people a language who anyways do it, right? Hey, here’s a vocabulary that you’re not just passive in your actions, but actually you’re cultivating serendipity. So Hey, here’s an active language for some thing that gives you legitimacy within your organization and beyond.” But actually what I realized is what’s much more powerful is having the CEO who says, “I think leadership is all about having complete control in X, Y, Z.” And then realizing, “Oh my God, this doesn’t mean I let go of control, this just means I’m more realistic about how it anyways unfolds and how I can turn uncertainty from a threat into an ally.”

And I think that’s where it gets really interesting because then you see the unexpected. Like in the Haier case, right? If you would see the unexpected as something that tells you, “You didn’t understand that there could be farmers who need that washing machine.” Right? If you would say, “No, our strategy is to produce normal washing machines. We wouldn’t be able to do a washing machine like this.” Then you will never be able to truly innovate, right? Because you’re trying to constantly just go the route and the road that you figured out before. But if you say, “No, this is part of my plan. I am in control of my own and plan here, that the unexpected will be part of the plan.” And I think that reframing to a lot of CEOs is very powerful because it doesn’t then question the authority. Quite the opposite, they can tell us from the beginning, “This is part of the plan.”

Des Dearlove:
Yeah. The Viktor Frankl book that you mentioned, I mean, that is an absolutely extraordinary book. If anybody hasn’t read it, they really should read it. I mean, it’s based largely on his experiences in concentration camps and why certain people will seem to survive and how you can find meaning even in the most awful situations, dreadful, dreadful situations. So I thoroughly recommend that book with that much meaning. But we’ve got questions coming in as well, more practical questions. Erika Lucas is asking, and it’s a good point, “Is it harder to cultivate serendipity in our current virtual?” You think of the famous water fountain, people bumping into each other and there was a little bit of that I believe, in the Viagra story, where two departments, one was working on one problem and they kind of cross pollinated. But that’s much harder to do at moment when we’re not able to bump into each other in quite the same way.

Christian Busch:
Yeah. And that’s really interesting in terms of, I think both the question of, can we replicate some of those moments online that we had offline and then are there others that we can do online that we didn’t even think about offline? So the first one, I found it really interesting. There is these wonderful ideas, for example, around random coffee trials, where the idea is that, especially if you are a large organization, a Bloomberg or Google, where essentially, people work from home and now more and more again in the office, but if you were at home, you might feel quite disconnected from the organization. You might feel disconnected from those moments, especially as a more junior person, that every day you could run into the boss of your boss and a new opportunity could emerge, right? That’s the beauty of those water cooler or water fountain moments.

Des Dearlove:
Yeah.

Christian Busch:
And so the idea of random coffee trials is to say, people indicate a time when they’re free during the week one or two times per month or so. And then they get randomly matched with someone else within the organs, a junior person with a senior person or department A with department B, and then they sit down for half an hour for a virtual coffee. And the idea here really is, that you still can bump into all these people you usually necessarily wouldn’t bump into when you sit at home. So you’re trying to recreate that water cooler experience. And I think that’s especially important of course, for more junior people who otherwise need to make an appointment with someone and go through all these different gatekeepers that are on the way to very senior people, versus here, you try to recreate this.

But also, the virtual, I found it fascinating how the virtual… A friend of mine said it beautifully. He was like, “Look, Christian, the great thing about Zoom is it’s my personal private plane into the living room of my client. Before that, if I want to visit a client in Austria, I had to spend 10 hours on somehow getting there and doing this and this and now within a second, I’m in their living room.” And of course, it’s not the same emotionally, but I think when we reframe it as, “Oh, wow, there’s also something that really can help us here, in terms of how we interact with people that we can have different types of conversations related to their living rooms or else.” I think that also maybe is an opportunity for us to connect differently with the people in our lives.

Stuart Crainer:
There’s a couple of interesting questions from Rosh Aniche in New Delhi. The first question is about Einstein and Edison and where they fit into the kind of serendipity scale. I presume you would say that they were open to the unexpected and they kind of went with it, that kind of openness to ideas? I guess, is the link between them?

Christian Busch:
Yeah, that a really interesting question and I’d love to learn more. I mean, if you wouldn’t mind giving more context, in terms of, it sounds like these two people came for a particular reason to mind, because Edison is exactly, when you look at the history of ideas, he obviously was the ideas person. He constantly came up with this and I think one of the beautiful things, of course, when it comes to serendipity is that it is a lot about out connecting dots and that kind of creativity that leads us to new ideas. And I think it’s fascinating how we can train ourselves to have more of this. Right? Because we sometimes think, “Oh, there’s some people who are more creative than others.” No, we can literally, we can learn how to connect the dots.

And I think that is a big part of that work to say, “How can I, for example, learn this whole idea around analogous thinking?” Is thinking where you try to say, “Okay, if I see an apple drop from a tree, actually, maybe that is about gravity because the apple is dropping down here, but it’s a much bigger story than just the apple dropping down.” And so we can train ourselves to see the bigger meaning in a small situation and I think that’s super interesting. I think that’s what Edison did the whole time.

Des Dearlove:
I mean, you just used the phrase reframing. We had Thomas Vispo on earlier, who’s written the book about framing and that seems to me, that’s quite integral to this. You mentioned your social experiment earlier. It’s how you frame your life experiences and the frame that you look at the world through. But I mean, what can people do, Thomas has taken his framework for framing, but from your point of view, what can people do to be looking through a serendipitous frame more often?

Christian Busch:
Yeah. Well, I mean, one is definitely to your point of reframing, I think that’s a big one. There’s an amazing organization in the Cape Flats in Cape Town called the reconstructed living labs. And what they’ve been doing is, it’s people who have a very rough life, it’s a very impoverished community, there’s no resources there. And they said, “Okay, we don’t have any resources here, but maybe there’s still a way of how we can make the best out of what is at hand.” And so what they said is, “Let’s develop a low cost education methodology, 10 steps to use social media, to build your business, 10 steps to use social media, to do X, Y, Z.” And then they go into other low local communities who are similarly impoverished and instead of asking, “What do you need?” So instead of asking, “What kind of resources do you need?” They say, “What is already here? And how can we build on this?”

And that reframing of saying, “It’s not about what I need, it’s not about writing a budget and saying, ‘I need exactly 20 chairs.'” It’s about saying, “What is the key problem we’re solving here and how can we do this?” And so how does this apply to our lives? Think about, I don’t know, you’re organizing an event and I think the usual kind of approach is you’re saying, “Oh, I need 15 chairs for this event. So I will put a budget request in that I need 15 chairs and that’s that.” Now the approach that our labs uses is to say, “Okay, first question, do you really need the chair or can people stand? If they can’t stand, is there a restaurant next door or somewhere else where you could borrow the chairs for the duration of this event?” And what you start seeing then is like, “Oh my God, we didn’t even realize we have X, Y, Z neighbor who could help with this and this. And then this actually leads us also to a lot of other interesting things, because we actually started a conversation with them now.”

The point here is that I’ve seen that a lot during the crisis, where the fight or flight response of companies is usually cost cutting, right? If you’re a bank and you have an ATM machine that now substitutes the cashier, you just say, “I’m sorry cashier, I have to fire you and I’m sorry, I have to close the office.” Right? That’s the easy way out. But actually this approach says, “No, let’s look at what we have here. We have a person who their whole life was dealing with money, so maybe they could be a financial trainer. And maybe the office space could be the space where we do the online certificate for X, Y, Z, financial learning from.” And so the point here is that once we look at resources and situations differently and try to understand what is in this moment, then certainly, things tend to happen because it forces us to connect the dots differently, rather than just to wait for resources to come in.

Stuart Crainer:
So I mean, it touches on various management ideas. So it’s patterned recognition in some ways or willingness to recognize new patterns, then it’s kind of agile thinking, as well. And the example you’ve just cited is almost like frugal innovation. So actually it touches all of these areas really?

Christian Busch:
That’s the beauty.

Stuart Crainer:
Yeah. Because it’s philosophical and it’s about more than just organization.

Christian Busch:
And that’s exactly the beauty. So sorry, just on this point, that’s exactly the beauty of it. That I feel that serendipity mindset brings together, it’s almost like a Venn diagram that brings together all these different ideas of, “Yes, we have to be agile, but we also have to remove self-limiting beliefs.” So there’s a psychology, there’s a tactic element. So there’s all these different elements and if you bring them together, that is what makes you fit in a way, for this fast changing world.

Stuart Crainer:
And what’s your reaction to the way we’ve all responded to the pandemic and how’s that affected your thinking? Because the book appeared just before the pandemic, didn’t it?

Des Dearlove:
Well, yeah. And presumably, some people might say that was really bad luck, really the opposite of serendipity, that you you’ve got a book that comes out just as the pandemic hits.

Christian Busch:
Well, it’s interesting because as we talked, I think we briefly dove into that question, in terms of that, the fascinating thing with the book coming out last year was, “Okay, well, everything was shut down.” Right? Every bookstore, every airport store. And for a first time author that’s the kind of thing where like, “Yeah, would’ve been nice if actually, those things would’ve been open.” But then also again, in that unexpected moment, there was something like, “Hey, but now at least you can take it international. You can speak at a conference in Costa Rica in the morning and be in Tokyo in the afternoon and you literally, have Zoom as your private plane that takes the content of the book and makes it global.”

And so I think there was a lot of that kind of mindset that emotionally, it wasn’t easy. Right? I feel like those situations, that’s the thing, we didn’t really dive deeper into that. But emotionally, I come from Germany, I love planning, I love mapping, I love certainty. Right? So to me, it’s actually counterintuitive to do a lot of work around this because it’s actually very much into the idea of, “Okay, so it’s not always that it just feels good, quite the opposite.” But I think that’s what I’m excited about.

I think one thing I’ve realized in a lot of different context, is that real interesting things emerge from friction, from tension, from sometimes discomfort and even pain. And I think that is the interesting thing is that, I think a lot of the innovation we’ve been seeing over the last months and years. I mean, I had COVID early last year, it was extremely painful. But then also last year I found the love of my life and we got married and have a baby girl now. And so it’s almost like I feel in every situation, there’s always these different elements and that come then to, “Okay, what do we do with these kind of questions?” And long story short, we have the paperback of the book actually coming out next year. And we just finished the bonus chapter, which is all about, Stuart, exactly your question, what is it in this time of extreme pressure and fight or flight type environment, what is necessity based serendipity?

In a life where a lot of times serendipity adds to our life, in terms of joy and other things, in periods of crisis, a lot of times serendipity also is almost like a survival mechanism. Because to that point, in a way, the most interesting things then, if you are a brewery that wouldn’t survive and you realize, “Oh my God, I can use my alcohol now to be hand sanitizer.” That saves your company. Right? And so it’s really those moments that I’m really fascinated by, how does a serendipity mindset help us to turn that crisis into something that could be a bit of an opportunity, even if we all acknowledge how tough a situation I think it is for everyone and especially how societal inequality has been exacerbated a lot.

Des Dearlove:
I mean, you touched on in your slides, the notion of organizations actually creating, I mean, serendipitous culture and throwing off your German upbringing to embrace uncertainty, rather than to see it as a problem. And I think potentially, that’s one of the interesting things I think about the pandemic, is the people who’ve handled it best have embraced the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Whereas, before we had leaders that wanted to be always right and to have certainty. But I mean, can organizations actually create a culture like this? I mean, I know you touched on them, but what are some of the concrete things that companies can do?

Christian Busch:
Yeah, absolutely, and that’s a great point. I think for now two practices that I’ve found extremely useful. One is, postmortems or project funerals, where the idea is, in this fast changing world, a lot of things we can’t plan. So a lot of times by definition, things will not work out. And usually in organizations, we have an incentive to hide that, right? We don’t want to be the person who’s responsible for X, Y, Z, that thing that didn’t work. But that’s where we really learn. Right? That’s where we really build trust, the things that that didn’t work. And so the project funeral is all about saying, “If you’re project manager A, whose idea didn’t work out, you present that for project managers from other divisions, why you think it didn’t work and what you learned from it? So it’s not about celebrating failure, it’s about celebrating the learning from what didn’t work.

And so in this one case of a company I’ve been collaborating with, they have this window frame and the idea was the light doesn’t reflect. So it’s an amazing technology, light doesn’t reflect, but they said, “Look, we realize the market is not big enough and so we learned that next time we need to understand the market even better.” Now, someone in the audience goes like, “Hey, hey, hey, have you considered what this could mean for solar? Have you considered, if you take this amazing technology that seems to absorb so much light and energy, if you take that into the solar context, how amazing that could be?” And that’s how quote, unquote, coincidentally, part of their solar division emerged.

Now, nobody saw it coming. Everyone by definition, we can’t know what that positive outcome could be, but they created a process that made it more likely that some kind of serendipity would happen, that some kind of knowledge sharing would happen and that people build, frankly more trust with each other. So that’s the kind of one practice that I find very useful. The other one is really very simple integrating into day-to-day meetings or weekly meetings, like simple questions. “What surprised you last week? Was there anything that surprised?” You because what you’re doing now is you’re incentivizing people to look out for the unexpected.

If then someone tells me, “Oh, I realized farmers are using our washing machine differently.” You’re like, “Okay, great. Let’s dive deeper into this.” So we legitimize the idea that the unexpected is okay, we don’t have to hide it. And so I think it’s those kind of practices that I find useful because it’s not about setting up a whole new procedure that takes off time and energy, but you just build it easily into day-to-day practices.

Des Dearlove:
Okay, that’s fantastic. I mean, Wimbledon’s just finished, but what your first point reminded me of Billy Jean King’s comment that, it’s not failure, it’s feedback. And it’s so true. Yeah. When you don’t quite achieve what you set out to do.

Stuart Crainer:
We’ve got people watching from Mexico, Holland, India, Malaysia. Are there certain cultures that are more open to serendipity? I mean, you cited the example from Haier and their work in China, it always strikes me that they’ve got a very different approach to ambiguity and vagueness. They’re quite comfortable with it, whereas Western companies aren’t. But are there certain cultures that are more primed for serendipity?

Christian Busch:
It’s interesting because coming from a risk averse culture, I come from Germany, I used to live in the UK for a long time. And I think in more risk averse cultures, I think that there is this tendency, I guess, that that planning is high priced. Right? Versus I do a lot of work in Kenya or India and I think their entrepreneurial spirit and the idea of, “Hey, look, let’s take it how it comes.” Is very high priced. And so I do feel that there’s probably cultures, that are more inclined towards having serendipity in their day-to-day. But again, I think the fascinating thing here is, how do we take the best of both cultures. Right? How do we take the best of the Germaneness, that’s all about reliability.

And frankly, if you have a nuclear reactor or something, you don’t want to have a lot of serendipity, you just want to have safety. Right? And so I think there’s situation where you certainly just want to have a certain idea of where you’re going, and then you want to be sure that that is actually, that people have an orientation around it. And then I think there’s moments where you have to innovate, you have to think differently about particular things. And the core of this work really is to say, “It’s not an either, or.” We are constructing the wrong kind of dichotomy here by saying, “It’s either planning or serendipity, either planning or the unexpected.” It’s literally saying, “No, we are planning for the unexpected.”

And to give an example, if you were a governor who last year saw COVID happening, old school leadership means I’m saying, “I as the governor, close down the state, and I’m telling you that exactly on May 15th opening up again and this is my exact timeline here and I know everything.” And then governor number two, who has the kind of the new mindset would say, “Okay, my key principles, public health, economic health, that’s our North Star. Here’s an approximate timeline. I want to open up on May 15th, but I’m telling you already now, that as soon as new information comes in, I will update this timeline.” And now who has the incentive to hide information, governor one. Right? Who has the incentive to try to not revise the timeline? Governor one, right?

And so the point here is that governor two can revise the timeline and still seem extremely strong because that’s what they told us from the beginning, that they would do that. And I think that is what we’ve seen in a lot of our work with especially, leaders around how do you build an organization that is fit for the future? That they’re extremely good at setting that North Star but also saying, “Hey, we are building in this mobility here.

Des Dearlove:
If only our prime minister in the UK would’ve read your book and understood that. Listen, we’re running out of time, but this is an absolutely fascinating subject. You said the paperbacks coming out next year, what’s next for you? I mean, where do you go with this research? Because as I said, I think it’s absolutely fascinating and crucial to the next era of business.

Christian Busch:
And I’ve dedicated my life, the next year is on saying, “Hey, we’ve seen that there is a particular mindset for individuals and the capability for companies that we’ve seen work and we’ve seen that around the world. How do we now get that into as many curricula, into as many organizations, being that HR functions?” That’s the kind of life skill you need as a young person. When you come into a company, that’s the kind of life skill you need. When you’re a student, that’s the kind of mindset you need to think about, “Oh my God, this is how I can make a career.” It’s not all mapped out anymore. And so I think it’s really, the next year’s fully focused on how do we integrate that kind of mindset and capability thinking into as many organizations and curricula as we can.

Stuart Crainer:
Christian, thank you very much. We’re out of time. I’d just like to mention Katherine Press who’s watching from Estonia and she says, “Her country is a good example of being flexible and open to serendipity.” Well, well done in Estonia. And obviously, Reyna Busch regards from Risk, avoiding Germany. Perhaps some relation Christine, who knows? Thank you everybody too, for joining us. And Christian, thank you very much. I think the Serendipity Mindset is a fantastic book, well worth tracking down the paper back when it comes out. What your website, Christian? What’s the best way for people finding you and finding out more?

Christian Busch:
Twitter is @ChrisSerendip. And then the homepage is serendipitymindset.com.

Stuart Crainer:
Brilliant. Christian Busch, thank you very much. Next week, we are joined by Rashika Telshan, so I hope you’ll be able to join us then. Thank you.

Christian Busch:
Thank you so much.

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