In a nutshell, serendipity is Luck Plus. Some people say that you can make your own luck, you can’t. What you can do is increase the potential of Serendipity. Here is a good example which I frequently use.
A simple but powerful example of the power of the serendipity comes from Japan Railways. During the construction of a tunnel through Mt. Tanigawa, engineers encountered many problems with water.
Just as they began to design a traditional draining solution enter an enterprising railway worker. He thought that the water tasted so good it ought to be bottled and sold as a premium brand mineral water rather than simply pumping it away.
And so “Oshimizu” was born. It became so popular that Japan Railways installed Oshimizu vending machines on every one of its platforms. Marketing material emphasises the purity of Mt. Tanigawa’s snow which is the source of the water and also the slow percolation through the rock which adds minerals. The product grew to include juices as well as iced and hot teas and coffees. By 1994, sales of Oshimizu branded drinks had risen to $47 million.
So Luck or Skill? Well as we can see from the Japan Railways example an unexpected event is nothing on its own. We need luck and an ability to react appropriately in a corporate environment.
So what does serendipity add? ‘Luck’ was having unwanted water in the railway tunnel and a railway worker who thought he would sample it. The ‘Plus’ is having a company culture that allowed the railway worker to put forward his idea and for Japan Railways to examine the possibilities and act accordingly. Japan Railways did not manufacture luck but were able to profit from unexpected situations due to being prepared.