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OPEN TO SERENDIPITY – Another Inner Peace Symptom

OPEN TO SERENDIPITY – Another Inner Peace Symptom

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that setting goals and self-discipline are important but you need to leave doors and windows open to the unexpected.  [Serendipity and dancing in the Mystery takes you to wonders that all your plans and willful intent would have you ignore….]

Awwww…PFUI!

I am having a problem explaining “serendipity,” I think.

And the Jungian concept of “synchronicity” (which is closely related), is a complex mind-boggling morass of interrelated concepts with weird names that grew out of Carl Gustav Jung’s study of “meaningful coincidences.”

Jung was the early 20th century Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is credited with founding analytical psychology.

(He was also a full-blown mystic and a lot of his musings on the inner workings of the mind and of Life-Its-Own-Self get really “out there.”)

Not a help.

Hmmm….

Maybe I’m approaching this thing wrong.

I’m trying to do the Scholar/pseudo-Scientist thing on it.

Instead of driving myself nuts trying to herd these distinctly counterintuitive, non-linear concepts onto a slide and sticking them under a metaphoric microscope so you can look at them wriggling all around, I’m going to do the Poet on them and try to get them to do a stomp-dance.

leilani-spins
“Leilani Spins” by steve mcnicholas via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND2.0]

LET’S DO THIS….

The thing is, those fifty-dollar words are just names for shiny, startling, free-floating bits in the matrix of what we call “Real”.  These bits tend to land on us when we least expect it.

Some of these surprising bits are joyous and light.  Others can be pretty heavy-duty challenges.

These days we tend to think of serendipity as the happier bits — little surprises that delight us or that answer some need of ours for a thing for which we’ve been intently searching.

One of my favorite definitions of “serendipity” comes from William McKeen, PhD, a journalist and teacher who has written nine books and edited four more.  The definition is also one of the simplest to understand, I think.

He says, “Serendipity is defined as the ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally.”

McKeen’s job, he says, is trying to make people think.

In an article posted in the New York Times Archives, when he was the Chair of the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida, McKeen tells the story of how he challenged the students in his freshman classes at the University by requiring each of them to subscribe to the New York Times Monday through Friday.

He told the students that he expected them to read through the dailies as a matter of routine and to use the things when they did their research rather than just going on-line and sorting through the front-page stuff that’s cherry-picked by assorted editors and other experts for “relevance” or weightiness or whatever.

Ignoring the groans and moans of his students, the professor required them to engage in the messiness of Life-Its-Own-Self, as documented by folks who are paid to go look at the lives around them and turn what they see into stories, day in and day out.

Why?

Because, he said, if you only use the admittedly wonderful variety and diverse resources available to you online, then “you would only find what you are looking for.”

Internet searches tend to be targeted.  You enter some key words into a search engine and you can pretty much find exactly what you are looking for.

Sometimes there are irritating misses if you haven’t gotten your search parameters right, but you can work your way through all the way to your goal pretty quickly.

(In my research for this thing, for example, I learned that “Serendipity” is also a type of nail-polish styling method and got a lot of tips on how to do it myself.  Hmmm.)

This directed searching thing is an excellent tool.  It saves a lot of time.

However, it does come at a cost.

As McKeen puts it, “When you know what you want – or think you do – you lose the adventure of discovery, of finding something for yourself.”

I think you also lose (or never find) your own voice.

Wandering around in the back pages of a good newspaper can be like browsing through the back shelves of an old library or in a good bookstore.  You can find amazing stuff there.

library
“Library” by Emily via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
McKeen contends that it’s the stories buried in the back of the dailies – in the business section, the sports section, the lifestyle sections or the obituary page — that can add nuance and richness, value and content to your stash of factoids that you can dip into to help direct and spur and refine your own thinking and your ways of seeing the world.

I was pleased to note that McKeen’s books include EVERYBODY HAD AN OCEAN:  Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles (2017), OUTLAW JOURNALIST:  The Life and Times of Hunter Thompson (2008), and TOM WOLFE (1995).  Intriguing topics, all.

SERENDIPITY, INNOVATION AND ALL THAT GOOD STUFF

Here’s a video featuring Jason Silva, my favorite free-style stomp-dancer in the world of ideas.  It was published in 2014 by Shots of Awe and tells us that serendipity results from mashing up a bunch of ideas together and seeing what falls out.

Surprise and startling insights are distinct possibilities when you start mashing stuff together.

Sometimes, as Silva points out so playfully, serendipity involves a moment of insight, the “’aha’ moment” that has since been made popular by communicator-extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey.

You see or experience something that catalyzes an insight which blossoms in your head and helps you find the most elegant answer to a question over which you have been beating that head against a wall.

You pick up a book from the discount table at your neighborhood bookstore and it falls open to a page with a significant passage that changes your perspective on a problem, for instance.

Something your little girl says or a conversation overheard while waiting in line starts a train of thought that leads to your writing a pretty good poem or article or even a novel.

That “aha” moment can spark an innovative idea that propels you forward in a new direction.  You slog along looking for something and you either find just what you needed or you find something better.

aha
“aha” by Tracy via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Many inventions were the result of serendipitous insights.  Things like penicillin, Post-It notes, and the telephone would not exist if the people who developed them hadn’t detoured or made mistakes while pursuing other goals.

In 1928, for example, Alexander Fleming was actively looking for a new antibiotic.  He returned from a vacation and found that penicillin juice left in petri-dishes that should have been washed while he was gone was apparently killing off bacteria.

Alexander Graham Bell’s microphone, first tested in 1876, was a detour that led him to develop his telephone.  At the time Bell thought he was developing a new kind of hearing aid.

Post-It notes were born in 1974 when Arthur Fry figured out that he could use the low-tack pressure sensitive adhesive accidentally developed in 1968 by fellow 3M employee Spencer Silver.

Until Fry came up with the idea of using Silver’s glue-that-wouldn’t-stay-stuck as a non-damaging way to hold bookmarks in his hymnal so that he could find the songs he was supposed to be singing as a member of the choir at his church, the not-exactly-glue was an idea that had not worked.

The ever-growing list of these kinds of accidental inventions goes on and on.

SERENDIPITY AND OUR RELATIONSHIPS

Many of us meet our most meaningful relationships – a spouse, friend, business partners, mentors, or life-changing personal connections – from chance encounters.

Often serendipitous events, like running into an old pal with whom you’ve lost touch, can work wonders for your psyche.

Old friends can remind you of dreams you’ve allowed to go dormant.  Sometimes those old dreams get resurrected or revived with good results.

(Either that, or you thank your lucky stars that you gave up on that old thing and are way more appreciative of the life you’ve built instead.)

Sometimes a chance encounter might open doors that were closed to you or help you find a True Companion who wants to join you on your quest.  Sometimes you meet a new person who “gets” you.

In this very short TED talk, “Inviting Serendipity To Your Life”, management consultant and author John Hagel tells the story of how Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired magazine found the CTO of his drone aircraft technology company while participating in an internet forum.

The talk was filmed at TED University in 2011 and published by the TED Archive guys on YouTube in 2018.

AND WHY SHOULD YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT THIS STUFF?

Okay.  Let’s say you are not a researcher, a scholar or an inventor, and you have no ambitions to be an artist, a performer, a writer or an entrepreneur.  Maybe you’re a regular sort of workaday minion, living out your days in the best way you can and not at all unhappy with your lot in life.

Why should you care about this stuff?

Let’s parse this out.

All kinds of studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the way we see the world and how we feel emotionally.

Other studies (and all kinds of wise guys down through the ages) have told us that the way we feel affects how we move in the world which then affects how the world responds to us and so on and so forth.

It does seem to indicate that being open to discovering new ways of thinking could have a very real effect on us and on the life each of us lives.

In this 2016 TEDx Talk, personal development coach and author Paul Hannaman talks about his concept of “Everyday Serendipity” at the TEDx event at the University of Brighton.

Hannaman’s book, THE WISDOM OF GROUNDHOG DAY:  How to Improve Your Life One Day at a Time, is actually a life-action plan based on the “hidden, underlying roadmap to freedom” found in a popular romantic comedy film, Groundhog Day, which was written by screenwriter Danny Rubin.

AND NOW FOR SYNCHRONICITY….

Okay.

That looks like a wrap on “serendipity”.

Now, for a (very) short and probably misguided look at “synchronicity.”

It is interesting to note that while the bit about “serendipity” in the “Best Answer” from the Yahoo Answers online forum archives for a query about “the difference between serendipity and synchronicity” is succinct and pretty much right on, the part about “synchronicity” gets lost in a lot of verbiage that leaves you scratching your head.

I agree with the Yahoo guy’s definition of “serendipity”.  He says it’s “finding something unexpected and useful while searching for something else.”

Then he goes on to say that “synchronicity” is a “word coined by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung to describe the temporally coincident occurences of acausal events….”  Huh?

Right.

I say that synchronicity is more like strong currents or riptides in the flow of the life-energy around us or like amazing, illogical, sideways quantum leaps of one sort or another that may not always be such delightful and gladsome surprises as the serendipity things, but which do seem to invariably lead to significant changes in our perceptions of the world we live in.

riptide
“Riptide!” By Big Swede Guy via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
They happen.  We cope.

The new ways of seeing that we discover as a result of synchronicity can take us to some other unplanned-for space that’s a decided improvement on where we were.

Those of us with a bent toward the woo-woo like to think that serendipity and synchronicity are evidence of the fact that Life-Its-Own-Self is a grand Mystery of the finest kind.

FINAL THOUGHT

In the words of my favorite poet, Mary Oliver:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Good question, huh?  Maybe serendipity and synchronicity can help you figure out your own answers to it.

Here’s a poem:


THE WORLD (ACCORDING TO YOU)

 What IS that?

The World (according to you)

Comes equipped with a set of rules and regs

That surround you with hurdles built of solid P.C. bricks

Set in a mine-field of P’s and Q’s, I’s to dot and T’s to cross.

 

How do you MOVE in a world like that,

Where, at every misstep on this crooked trail

Of shoulda’s, coulda’s, and might-have-beens

There’s a maze of dead ends and deader conversations?

 

How does it work for you

When you do not dare take your eyes off your feet

Because the ground you’re walking is just studded

With assorted cantrips of “polite” and “correct”?

 

Can you see through the veils of other-people thoughts

That tramp on through your head,

Squelching every impulse to giggle and laugh out loud

At the fables of this silly World?

 

Auwe, my sistah, auwe!

So sad, my braddah….

 

Can you even taste the heady wine

of freedom…of change

That floats through this Universe like a river?

Or does the bitterness in your mouth obscure that joy?

 

Auwe, auwe, auwe….

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Maui” by Dale Cruse via [CC BY 2.0]

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PLAY WITH THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE

PLAY WITH THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE

I’ve been noticing that much of the advice being bandied about by the guys trying to help us ordinary folks improve our dud-ly selves is to reach for innovation, to grab onto the Creativity Rocket and hang on for the sure-to-be-exciting but sometimes silly (and possibly dangerous) ride.

For example, vlogger John Spencer published this YouTube video in 2016 that tells us, “We Need a Bigger Definition of Creativity.”

Everyone who studies on these things will tell you that the world-in-all-its-glory is capable of extraordinary change.

Us humans, as the pushiest parts of this world and the ones most likely to move things around and tinker and build and re-purpose stuff, are all nascent agents of change, they tell us.

And they are right.

BUT, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO BE A CHANGE-AGENT?

There’s just one problem with all that:  Change-agents are very often disruptive sorts.

They don’t mean to be.  They’re just exploring their own fascinations and pursuing their own obsessions.

However, they do tend to confuse and upset and irritate people who are just going along and getting by.  They rock the boats of the ones who are liking the way the world is already set up just the way it is.

Change-agents can be especially unpopular with people whose power is based on the world being how it is.

Change-agents are likely to be the guys who get ridiculed and vilified and stomped down by their peers and the others around them.

If their ideas are particularly change-making, change-agents are the ones who end up getting denounced from assorted pulpits and beat up by fearful mobs of folks or burned at the stake by the ones who don’t like the possibilities to which the new ideas point.

This may make you uneasy.

fear-of-the-dark
“Fear of the Dark” by stuart anthony via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
It is also why people who are inclined to be innovative are admonished that they do need to learn how to connect better with the people around them.

This helps them find other people for whom the fascination of where the next new idea will take them is exciting.

Being a change-agent is lot more fun when you hang out with others who are also looking to change the world…or who are at least willing to change their mind.

WHEN AN IDEA IS “AHEAD OF ITS TIME”

Ideas and ways of walking and doing things that are very much more “advanced” or just very different than what has gone before are likely to meet resistance of every kind.

Infant ideas that are “ahead of their time” often get killed off before they can turn into anything tangible.

Either the necessary supporting technology is not yet part of the agreed-upon consensus-world that the change-agents share with the other people around them or else the prevailing, existing mindsets just can’t take in (much less digest) these new baby ideas and squishes them flat.

When these very good change-inducing ideas get re-discovered by innovative sorts living in friendlier times, the things take off running, dragging the whole reluctant, resistant world along.

This happens in science and technology; in art, music, literature, theater, fashion, design, and the rest of the creative milieu; in the business and working world; and in the lifestyles of people who work on transforming themselves into something other than what they used to be.

The whole point of knowing this is that you can aim yourself at looking for the “ideas whose time is now”, ideas that excite many other people in the world.

Perhaps one of those ideas will take you to the new places that will ring the world’s chimes.

so-it-begins
“So it begins” by Phototropy via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE

In 2002, physician and theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman (a free-thinker who has a tendency to confuse the heck out of a lot of his more mundane colleagues) figured out and developed a mind-map of the way real change works in the natural world.

Kauffman’s work was so esoteric and bound up in the evolutionary changes that occur in his unique mash-up, interdisciplinary world of biology, physics and astronomy that it had to be explained to us ordinary folks by science writer Steven Johnson in his 2010 book, WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM:  The Natural History of Innovation.

As Johnson explains, Kauffman discovered a theory that he called the “Adjacent Possible.”

Basically, what the thing says is that at any given moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only CERTAIN changes can actually happen.

What determines which changes CAN happen is the fact that other, supporting changes to a particular situation have already happened.

And then, if new changes happen because of the work the change-agent puts into making his or her new idea tangible and if others continue iterating and developing the idea, then other “adjacent possible” changes become available and so on.

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore these boundaries.  Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible,” says Johnson.

Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open.

You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room you have not visited yet.  These four rooms contain what Kauffman calls “the adjacent possible.”

room-with-doors-2
“Room with Doors (2060-2)” by Brent Eckly [CC BY 2.0]
Okay.

So you open one of those four magic doors.

You stroll (or possibly sneak) into the new room that appears when you open that door and you notice that in that room there are three or more other new doors you can open.

room-with-doors
“Room with Doors (IMG_8881)” by David Bramhall [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Repeat the process and you come to another room with more doors.

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“Exploration” by Flavio Spugna [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Each of these doors is way the heck and gone across this very large room and each one of those doors leads to yet another brand-new room….and so on.

The mind-boggle is that you would not have been able to reach any of the possible brand-new rooms from your original starting point.

If you keep opening doors, who knows where you might end up?

urban-exploration
“Urban Exploration” by Patrick BAUDUIN via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One interesting riff on the way the world has been disrupted by all the ones who are busily exploring the adjacent possible was published by Heidrick and Struggles International.

The company says they are “a premier provider of senior level Executive Search, Culture Shaping and Leadership Consulting services.”  (The capitals are all theirs.)

The factoids they present in their video, “A Disrupted World,” are amazing.

This video is particularly interesting because it shows the mindset of one of the top headhunter companies in the world….a definite indication that exploring the adjacent possible is an especially valuable way of walking.

CHANGE HAPPENS STEP BY STEP

The thing to remember in all this door-opening and wandering around in the weird places you discover behind all those doors is that most real changes are a gradual process.

The thing just keeps trundling along:  If this happens, then that can happen.  When that happens, then this next thing becomes possible and can happen.

All you have to add is water – your blood, your sweat, and your tears.  (The changes you’d like to see probably doesn’t come with zippy high-velocity elevators and escalators.)

You can, of course, choose to step off a very high cliff, figuring that you’ll build wings on the way down.  After all, that looks like a great short-cut and you’re creative, right?  Sure….

gentle-journey
Gentle Journey” by Domy Kamsyah via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND]
I have to tell you, though, this is not a really good survival strategy — especially if you have the mechanical know-how of a toad and no floating workshop or friendly flying dragon or roc who will rescue you from your Stupid.

HACKING THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE STARTS AT THE THRESHOLD

Unlocking a new door and bravely going where nobody has gone before (and surviving to tell the tale) is tricky.  Ask any Trekkie.  They’ll tell ya.

continued-exploration
“Continued Exploration by skagitrenee via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Basically, you need to figure out ways to explore the edges of the possibilities that now surround you once you get the durned door open.

This can be as simple as changing the physical environment you work in, cultivating a specific kind of social network, or maintaining certain habits in the way you do your work or play your way.

From there you can develop the skills you’ll need to take you to the next level and beyond.

Be aware that you will probably have to shovel out manure and sort through mountains of “nope-doesn’t-work.”

Be aware that there are cliffs and thorns and probably hungry predators in this brave new world of yours.

In the middle of this process of exploring the adjacent possibles you encounter, you may have to re-think your expectations and aspirations and re-vamp your mind-maps yet again in the face of the “not-yet-possible” which is the shadow-side of all this playing around with possibility.

You might also find an utterly amazing adjacent possible that grabs you and everybody else around you by the throat.

As you get good at navigating through the adjacent possibles in your world, you may even figure out how to use those navigational skills to further your dream in more tangible ways.

Here are some cogent thoughts on that by engineer-turned-deep-thinker and skill-development coach Yazan Hijazi in his 2017 video, ‘Innovation vs Creativity Demystified.”

Hijazi explains the difference and the relationship between innovation and creativity beautifully.

Creativity, he says, is getting lots and lots of ideas.  Innovation is about making some of these ideas real and getting people to buy into them or adopt them.

Hijazi tells you innovation comes in two flavors: “incremental” and “disruptive.”  He explains what they are, what they do and what they are for.

In the video he explains how you can use these two types of innovation to explore the edges of the adjacent possibles that surround you (and how to survive and thrive while doing it).

THE DOING IS ALL THERE IS

One of my favorite books is A PATH OF MASTERY:  Lessons on Wing Chun and Life from Sifu Francis Fong by Jim Brault.

In it, Brault reminds us, “In nature growth is gradual.  It takes time, it can’t be forced.”

He asks, “Why are you in such a hurry anyway?  Don’t worry if it takes a long time to learn.  The longer it takes to learn, the longer it will stay with you.”

When you’re playing around with possibilities, it’s good to remember that you have to be able to take action, to do things.   More importantly, you need to learn what to do and what not to do and when.

Learning about how you can do what you want to do is what gets you through that magical room you’re facing and how you get to the next door.

A VISION OF WONDER

This next video, published by The Culture Marketing Council in 2015, is a treat.  It features film-maker, public speaker and television personality Jason Silva, who The Atlantic dubbed “A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age.”  Enjoy!

Here’s a poem:


LEVELS

It seems to me always

That there are levels

And levels and levels.

And when you’ve slogged

Your way to the top of one,

And mastered every step along the way,

You find that you are standing

On the threshold of yet another

That beckons you to enter into

Other wonders, other nows.

 

Sometimes you stand there

At this next gateway and sigh,

Knowing that again here is the choice:

You can stay where you are

And be a master, strong and whole,

The one on whom others depend,

Or you can step across the line

And lose it all, become an egg,

A useless chick, fresh-hatched,

Peeping and cheeping potentiality.

 

And that next step

Is the hardest one to take.

It’s not easy, sloughing off

The tried, the true.

And it’s a painfulness to lose

The you that you have made,

An impregnable mountain tower,

High above the world,

A beacon shining, beckoning,

And leading the way.

 

It’s through the birth canal again you go,

So it’s no wonder if you take it kind of slow.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Exploration” by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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