Serendipity
Overview
 
Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted as one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company. However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages. In the simplest of words, it means a "happy accident" or a "pleasant surprise".
The first noted use of "serendipity" in the English language was by Horace Walpole (1717–1792).
Quotations

You know the Greeks didn't write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: "Did he have passion?".

[Lying on the grass with Jonathan, outside Sara's house] Maybe we're lying here because you don't wanna be standing somewhere else.

Contrary to popular New York myth the Times is not omniscient.

[commenting on Jonathan's craziness] They should make pills for this.

[commenting on Sara's craziness] They should make pills for this.

Encyclopedia
Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted as one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company. However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages. In the simplest of words, it means a "happy accident" or a "pleasant surprise".

Etymology

The first noted use of "serendipity" in the English language was by Horace Walpole (1717–1792). In a letter to Horace Mann
Sir Horace Mann, 1st Baronet
Sir Horace Mann, 1st Baronet KB , diplomat, was a long standing British resident in Florence.-Biography:...

 (dated 28 January 1754) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip
The Three Princes of Serendip
The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557. Tramezzino claimed to have heard the story from one Christophero Armeno who had translated the Persian fairy tale into Italian...

, whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of". The name stems from Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 (aka Ceylon), from Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 Sarandib, from Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 Simhaladvipa which literally translates to "Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island" (some trace the etymology to Suvarnadweepa or golden island).

Role in science and technology

One aspect of Walpole's original definition of serendipity that is often missed in modern discussions of the word is the "sagacity" of being able to link together apparently innocuous facts to come to a valuable conclusion. Thus, while some scientists and inventors are reluctant about reporting accidental discoveries, others openly admit its role; in fact serendipity is a major component of scientific discoveries and inventions. According to M. K. Stoskopf "it should be recognized that serendipitous discoveries are of significant value in the advancement of science and often present the foundation for important intellectual leaps of understanding".

The amount of benefit contributed by serendipitous discoveries varies extensively among the several scientific disciplines. Pharmacology
Pharmacology
Pharmacology is the branch of medicine and biology concerned with the study of drug action. More specifically, it is the study of the interactions that occur between a living organism and chemicals that affect normal or abnormal biochemical function...

 and chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 are probably the fields where serendipity is more common.

Most authors who have studied scientific serendipity both in a historical, as well as in an epistemological point of view, agree that a prepared and open mind is required on the part of the scientist or inventor to detect the importance of information revealed accidentally. This is the reason why most of the related accidental discoveries occur in the field of specialization of the scientist. About this, Albert Hofmann
Albert Hofmann
Albert Hofmann was a Swiss scientist known best for being the first person to synthesize, ingest and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide . He authored more than 100 scientific articles and a number of books, including LSD: My Problem Child...

, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD
LSD
Lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD or LSD-25, also known as lysergide and colloquially as acid, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, well known for its psychological effects which can include altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visuals, synaesthesia, an...

 properties by unintentionally ingesting it at his lab, wrote
Another example of serendipity in science is associated with Alexander Fleming
Alexander Fleming
Sir Alexander Fleming was a Scottish biologist and pharmacologist. He wrote many articles on bacteriology, immunology, and chemotherapy...

 and his discovery of penicillin
Penicillin
Penicillin is a group of antibiotics derived from Penicillium fungi. They include penicillin G, procaine penicillin, benzathine penicillin, and penicillin V....

 against the serious diseases at the time. He accidentally left a petri dish of Staphylococcus
Staphylococcus
Staphylococcus is a genus of Gram-positive bacteria. Under the microscope they appear round , and form in grape-like clusters....

 bacteria open and a mold had got inside which had appeared to have killed around the bacteria. It turned out that it was the fungus Penicillium
Penicillium
Penicillium is a genus of ascomycetous fungi of major importance in the natural environment as well as food and drug production. Members of the genus produce penicillin, a molecule that is used as an antibiotic, which kills or stops the growth of certain kinds of bacteria inside the body...

 and he turned the fungus into a groundbreaking anti-biotic.

The French scientist Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist born in Dole. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal fever, and he created the first vaccine for rabies and anthrax. His experiments...

 also famously said: "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind." This is often rendered as "Chance favors the prepared mind." William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

  expressed the same sentiment 250 years earlier in act 4 of his play Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

: "All things are ready if our minds be so."

History, of course, does not record accidental exposures of information which could have resulted – but did not – in a new discovery, and we are justified in suspecting that they are many. There are several examples of this, however, and prejudice of preformed concepts is probably the largest obstacle. See for example for a case where this happened (the rejection of an accidental discovery in the field of self-stimulation of the limbic system in humans).

Role in business and strategy

M. E. Graebner describes serendipitous value in the context of the acquisition of a business as "windfalls that were not anticipated by the buyer prior to the deal": i.e., unexpected advantages or benefits incurred due to positive synergy effects of the merger.
Ikujiro Nonaka
Ikujiro Nonaka
is an influential writer and Professor Emeritus at Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy; the First Distinguished Drucker Scholar in Residence at the Drucker School and Institute, Claremont Graduate University; the Xerox Distinguished Faculty Scholar,...

 (1991,p. 94 November–December issue of HBR) points out that the serendipitous quality of innovation is highly recognized by managers and links the success of Japanese enterprises to their ability to create knowledge not by processing information but rather by "tapping the tacit and often highly subjective insights, intuitions, and hunches of individual employees and making those insights available for testing and use by the company as a whole".

Serendipity is a key concept in Competitive Intelligence
Competitive intelligence
A broad definition of competitive intelligence is the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers in making strategic decisions for an organization.Key...

 because it is one of the tools for avoiding Blind Spots (see Blindspots analysis
Blindspots analysis
Blindspots analysis is a method aimed at uncovering obsolete assumptions in a decision maker’s mental scheme of the environment....

)

Uses of serendipity

Serendipity is used as a sociological
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 method in Anselm L. Strauss' and Barney G. Glaser's Grounded Theory
Grounded theory
Grounded theory is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the generation of theory from data. It is mainly used in qualitative research, but is also applicable to quantitative data....

, building on ideas by sociologist Robert K. Merton
Robert K. Merton
Robert King Merton was a distinguished American sociologist. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor...

, who in Social Theory and Social Structure
Social Theory and Social Structure
Social Theory and Social Structure was a landmark publication in sociology by Robert K. Merton. It has been translated into close to 20 languages and is one of the most frequently cited texts in social sciences...

(1949) referred to the "serendipity pattern" as the fairly common experience of observing an unanticipated, anomalous and strategic datum which becomes the occasion for developing a new theory or for extending an existing theory. Robert K. Merton
Robert K. Merton
Robert King Merton was a distinguished American sociologist. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor...

 also coauthored (with Elinor Barber) The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity which traces the origins and uses of the word "serendipity" since it was coined. The book is "a study in sociological semantics and the sociology of science", as the subtitle of the book declares. It further develops the idea of serendipity as scientific "method" (as juxtaposed with purposeful discovery by experiment or retrospective prophecy).

Related terms

William Boyd
William Boyd (writer)
William Boyd, CBE is a Scottish novelist and screenwriter.-Biography:Of Scottish descent, Boyd spent his early life in Ghana and Nigeria, in Africa...

  coined the term zemblanity to mean somewhat the opposite of serendipity: "making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries occurring by design". A zemblanity is, effectively, an "unpleasant surprise". It derives from Novaya Zemlya
Novaya Zemlya
Novaya Zemlya , also known in Dutch as Nova Zembla and in Norwegian as , is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in the north of Russia and the extreme northeast of Europe, the easternmost point of Europe lying at Cape Flissingsky on the northern island...

 (or Nova Zembla), a cold, barren land with many features opposite to the lush Sri Lanka (Serendip). On this island Willem Barents
Willem Barents
Willem Barentsz was a Dutch navigator, cartographer, explorer, and a leader of early expeditions to the far north....

 and his crew were stranded while searching for a new route to the east.

Bahramdipity is derived directly from Bahram Gur
Bahram V
Bahram V was the fourteenth Sassanid King of Persia . Also called Bahram Gur or Bahramgur , he was a son of Yazdegerd I , after whose sudden death he gained the crown against the opposition of the grandees by the help of Mundhir, the Arab dynast of al-Hirah.- Reign and war with Rome :Bahram V...

 as characterized in the "The Three Princes of Serendip
The Three Princes of Serendip
The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557. Tramezzino claimed to have heard the story from one Christophero Armeno who had translated the Persian fairy tale into Italian...

". It describes the suppression of serendipitous discoveries or research results by powerful individuals.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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