Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cultivating serendipity: the annual reading vacation

In his terrific book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson writes about the notion that serendipity often plays a key role in innovation. However, he argues we can cultivate serendipity. How? Among his ideas, he argues that we need to consider "deep dives" in which we immerse ourselves in a topic in a condensed period of time. For instance, he recalls Bill Gates' annual reading vacations at Microsoft. Gates would collect tons of reading material during the year and then take a week or so to read as much of it that he could. Why pursue this condensed approach? Johnson explains that the compression enhances the probability that we will make interesting connections and combinations among disparate ideas. If too much time lapses between the time we read these books, the chances increase that we will forget certain things and fail to see the potential for novel combinations of ideas. The concept applies well beyond reading. It applies to any investigation of new ideas. Time compression may seem overwhelming at first, but it cultivates serendipity.

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