Connecting the Dots—a series by GV Ravishankar, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital India, that explores and makes connections across a range of diverse ideas on scaling companies, personal growth and leading teams.
“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it” —F.L. Jefferson
When we were a newly married couple, my wife and I would take the 8:05 AM BMTC bus every day to our offices. Once in a while, we would leave home a few minutes late and we’d walk doubly fast to try and make the bus, even when it was clear that we wouldn’t make it by 8:05 AM even if we flew! Still, we’d try—and we observed that when we made the effort, we seemed to get lucky; the bus was inevitably a few minutes late to the stop and we would manage to get on board.
Were we just lucky or did working harder pay off? Certainly walking faster couldn’t have made the bus come later. What it did do was to allow us to take advantage of the situation if the bus came a few minutes late.
With serendipity, it’s always how we react to the unexpected event that matters more than the event itself. This is a lesson both of us have taken to heart in our lives—always try harder and give yourself a chance to be surprised positively!
In the first part of this series, we saw how serendipity can be thought of as a skill one can develop. When a prepared mind meets a lucky development, we can make serendipity work in our favour. And by working on the three individual vectors that contribute to the growth of the serendipity sphere—showing up with passion, knocking on doors and doing so for a long time—we can actually build our own luck! Walking doubly fast is an example of showing up and giving ourselves a chance to make the bus.
In this article, we will see how individuals can expand their serendipity spheres and how the small but intentional choices we make can influence how lucky we get. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Christian Busch’s new book called “The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck,” where I first read about several of these ideas.
Expanding the vectors
Let’s look at how we can do a few things on each of the vectors that can help grow our serendipity sphere.
Showing up: This is the first step. It requires passion and discipline to do something consistently; you should strive to come to work each day with a positive mindset and a desire to make progress. Then take that approach everywhere you go. Being “mentally present” in non-work settings, and opening yourself up to being positively surprised by the new connections that may be possible, is an important aspect of showing up. Richard Wiseman’s book “The Luck Factor” talks about how lucky people are typically more optimistic, more relaxed and more observant. Showing up is not just showing up, but doing so with a positive mindset. Another effective way to show up is to show more of yourself. Christian Busch recommends that anytime you introduce yourself do so by sharing multiple facets of yourself. “I partner with entrepreneurs as a part of my role at Sequoia Capital; I enjoy single origin coffees and read books on behavioural economics in my downtime” provides more serendipity hooks to make connections than saying “I am a VC with Sequoia Capital”.
Knocking on doors: The second vector that can increase serendipity works by increasing the number of connections/conversations. You can ‘knock on more doors’ by speaking to the person sitting next to you on the flight or across the table in the coffee shop. You can attend more events or join interest groups, which increases your chance of meeting new people. Each of these are opportunities to intersect with someone or something that could further your cause. You could do this digitally by writing to an author on Twitter, or pinging someone on LinkedIn and requesting a conversation or some help. Many times you may not get a response and in the worst-case people may say no, which is no worse than not pinging at all. As Wayne Gretzy, widely considered the greatest ice hockey player ever, once said “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take”. Take that shot! Our investment in Rebel Foods (formerly called Faasos) came out of a cold email I received from Jaydeep Barman on a Thursday afternoon in February 2011. They took a shot and it turned into a long-term partnership.
Doing it long enough: If you play the long game (a subject that deserves a future deep dive!) you allow for compounding to take over and do its magic. Connections can be made either across people or sometimes over time as we accumulate more experiences. The longer the time spent, the larger your networks and the greater your ability to tap your experiences and connect the dots to build insights will be. Angry Birds was the game-maker Rovio’s 52nd game. Most of us haven’t heard of their previous 51 games. They kept at it until some of their learnings compounded to give them a big hit. We often give up when things don’t give us the desired outcomes. Sometimes having the grit and belief to keep knocking on doors is an important part of making serendipity work for you. We would not have Post-It notes today—one of the top-selling stationery products in the world—if its accidental inventor Spencer Silver didn’t persist in trying to find ways to take it to market. It took 3M ten years to find the right market fit for its “Press ‘n Peel” product and another two years to release it across the US.
Putting it in practice
So the next time you’re invited to attend a conference or a community event, make the effort to show up with an open mind, meet a few people and throw out a few serendipity hooks by sharing your interests and learning more about others. Send requests to meet senior professionals or authors knowing well that you have an asymmetric risk-reward in doing so. If you are introverted like I am, these ideas may appear daunting, but you could take the help of a close friend who could keep pushing you. Or maybe you want to write a blog and let someone discover you. Who knows, you may connect with someone who makes an important introduction for you, be the next customer for your business or a company that’s looking to fill a new role with someone with your exact background. Remember: the harder you work at expanding your serendipity sphere and the longer you do it, the luckier you get!
Do write in at email@example.com if any of my interests intersect with yours!
(Edited by: By Ajay Vaishnav)