Do you think of luck as pure chance? Christian Busch, Ph.D, author of “The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck,” disagrees.
“Luck can be an active process that we can influence,” Busch says. “It is a force that we can grasp, shape, and hone. And we can foster the conditions to let luck grow in our personal and professional lives.”
Busch draws a distinction between blind luck, or pure chance, and smart luck, which we can help create. “Serendipity is smart, active luck,” he says. “It’s when you’re able to see something in the unexpected and connect the dots. Or when you grab an opportunity to turn blind luck, which you can’t really influence, to your advantage.”
To create what Busch calls a serendipity mindset, we need to develop a muscle for it. Like any other muscle, it can be strengthened over time. The more situations you’re able to see that you can turn to your advantage, the more you’ll start believing that it can happen, and the more it will happen.
These three tips will get you started.
1. Have an open mind
“Curious, open, and questioning minds are at the core of making discoveries and creating serendipity,” Busch says. Naturally curious people often have a serendipity mindset, but all of us can cultivate it.
Most people have a desire to control everything, he notes, especially in light of the past few years when so much has been out of our control. To be open to luck, we have to accept that we cannot plan or know everything. Being open-minded, or having a growth mindset, allows you to capitalize on chance circumstances when things don’t go according to plan. Whereas a rigid mindset allows little room for pivoting.
When we leave space for imperfection and the unexpected, we can more easily reframe situations. So where others might see a problem–a delayed flight, for instance–you see an opportunity. Perhaps it turns into an extra hour in the airport to FaceTime with a friend with whom you wanted to connect. And when we are able to reframe situations, we allow for more positive outcomes to emerge.
2. Set hooks
Busch believes that we can plant the seeds for serendipity during any encounter by giving the people we meet hooks, or openings, to help pique their interest in us.
Here’s an example: You’re introduced to someone, and they ask, “What do you do?” Busch sets several hooks aimed at uncovering common interests. He might say, “I really enjoy connecting with people and am in the education field. But when I’m not working, I love to read and bake sourdough bread.”
This reply includes four hooks: a vocation (education), a passion (reading), a skill (connecting people), and a hobby (baking). The four hooks increase the odds that a listener will relate and respond, making serendipity more likely. “If you simply responded, ‘I’m in education,’ the potential for others to connect the dots would be quite small,” he says.
Busch shares another example. At a conference, if there’s a Q&A at the end of a session, he might say something like, “Thank you for the inspiring presentation. As someone who aspires to do XYZ activity, I was struck by what you said about XYZ topic. What would you advise people like me to do?”
This gives the entire audience insight into how your life and career might relate to theirs. “In my experience,” says Busch, “in a group of a couple hundred people, usually several will respond to such hooks by seeking out the person who set them, saying, ‘What a coincidence. I recently went through XYZ as well.’”
3. Prepare for the unexpected
Busch describes himself as an introvert who prefers not to be thrown into unexpected situations. To be better prepared, he has learned to create prompts. For example, he recalls that during a former job, he often would run into his boss in unusual situations–and feel tongue-tied. Afterward, he’d think, “Shoot–I could have told him what I’m working on, so he thinks of me for the next promotion.” So Busch started collecting some thoughts and writing them down. “OK, next time I run into him, this will be my line.”
To do this, Busch suggests starting a journal. Write down some of the unexpected things that have happened to you and how you might have been better prepared. Insecurity holds us back, Busch says. “But regrets about not saying something are much bigger,” he says, “so start saying something.”
He also suggests writing down three hooks about yourself that you can use in a conversation. Most people struggle to think on their feet, so having something prepared is helpful.
Modern life is full of chance encounters, changing plans, and many mishaps. But you can use such unpredictability to your advantage. “Meaningful encounters can happen at any moment,” Busch says, “and there’s a joy in knowing that. That’s the mindset. That’s where the magic happens.”