Dr. Christian Busch (@ChrisSerendip), PhD, is an internationally known expert in the areas of innovation, purpose-driven leadership, social impact, and entrepreneurship. He teaches at New York University (NYU) and the London School of Economics (LSE), and is the author of The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck. At NYU, he directs the CGA Global Economy program.
What advice can you share for leaders currently trying to navigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 and the related economic turmoil has put a strain on businesses around the world, and poses an existential threat for many enterprises. Effective approaches that emerged from our recent research and our work with leaders around the world are:
– Combining a sense of direction with a deep awareness that they cannot control, let alone predict, the future. By expecting the unexpected and relating it to an effective North Star or purpose, innovation becomes possible.
– “Reframing” capabilities: What is our core capability, and how could it relate to the current situation? Breweries become hand sanitizer companies, designer companies realize that they can produce and sell stylish masks and gowns, and artists who had their performances cancelled start capturing new audiences by teaching an instrument online. This often requires to rethink how we organize our business. Instead of business units focused on “solutions” (like tomography), we might need to think about the bigger problem (like “precision diagnostics”) that allow innovation to flourish.
– Cultivating serendipity-spotting: Alertness is at the core of noticing unexpected events and turning them into innovation. Companies have integrated practices such as asking team members in routine meetings if they came across something surprising last week – and if yes, did it change their assumptions (e.g., in terms of marketing strategy)? Could it be valuable to follow up on this?
– Providing a sense of belonging: Companies often are the most important place for people to socialize. In a physically-distanced COVID-19 world, this needs to be emulated virtually. This can include “random lunches”, in which strangers within the organization are randomly matched and prompted to discuss inspiring questions.
– Derisking: If we want our employees and colleagues to come up with new ideas, we need to “de-risk” the process of voicing them, for example by role-modelling that new ideas don’t have to be perfect.
Do you think that Covid-19 will breed innovation or inhibit it?
Throughout history, uncertainty and the unexpected has driven (necessity-based) innovation. We’re seeing this now: Distilleries that instead of shutting down started producing alcohol-based hand sanitizer at an affordable price. Snow canon businesses that began producing disinfection canons for large open spaces. Swimsuit businesses that started selling healthy food via e-commerce. New opportunities and business models are emerging for those that are ready for it. Innovation is not a “nice to have” anymore, but a necessity that needs to be cultivated across the organization.
Your book titled “The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck” is due to be released soon (US: June 9th; UK/international: September 3rd). Can you give us some insight into what we can expect from it?
Modern life is full of chance encounters, changing plans, human errors, and unexpected crises. But what if we could turn such unpredictability into positive outcomes? The book explores how, if acted upon, unexpected moments can enhance our worldview, expand our social circles, and create new opportunities for innovation and impact.
It answers the question: how can we use uncertainty as a pathway to more purpose and success, for companies and individuals alike? It focuses on the science of serendipity as a tool for innovation and impact, and distils concrete practices on how to cultivate serendipity for enhanced meaning and success.
To order Christian’s new book “The Serendipity Mindset, click here.
Header visualization of The Serendipity Mindset by @n_inks