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Serendipitous

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Serendipitous

For other uses, see Serendipity (disambiguation).


Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; a fortunate mistake. Specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.[1] However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages.[2]

Etymology

The first noted use of "serendipity" in the English language was by Horace Walpole (1717–1797). In a letter to Horace Mann (dated 28 January 1754) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, 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 (aka Ceylon), from Arabic Sarandib. Parts of Sri Lanka were under the rule of South Indian kings for extended periods of time in history. Kings of Kerala, India (Cheranadu)were called Chera Kings and dheep means island, the island belonging to Chera King was called Cherandeep, hence called Sarandib by Arab traders.[3]

Science and technology

Main article: Role of chance in scientific discoveries

Various thinkers discuss the role that luck can play in science. One aspect of Walpole's original definition of serendipity, often missed in modern discussions of the word, is the need for an individual to be "sagacious" enough to link together apparently innocuous facts in order to come to a valuable conclusion. Indeed, the scientific method, and the scientists themselves, can be prepared in many other ways to harness luck and make discoveries.

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[4] 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 because it is one of the tools for avoiding blind spots (see Blindspots analysis).[5]

Uses

Serendipity is used as a sociological method in Anselm L. Strauss' and Barney G. Glaser's Grounded Theory, building on ideas by sociologist Robert K. Merton, who in Social Theory and Social Structure (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 also coauthored (with Elinor Barber) The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity[6] 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 coined the term zemblanity to mean somewhat the opposite of serendipity: "making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries occurring by design".[7] A zemblanity is, effectively, an "unpleasant unsurprise". It derives from Novaya Zemlya (or Nova Zembla), a cold, barren land with many features opposite to the lush Sri Lanka (Serendip). On this island Willem Barents and his crew were stranded while searching for a new route to the east.

Bahramdipity is derived directly from Bahram Gur as characterized in the "The Three Princes of Serendip". It describes the suppression of serendipitous discoveries or research results by powerful individuals.[8]

See also

Notes

References

  • "The view from Serendip", by Arthur C. Clarke, Random House, 1977.
  • "Momentum and Serendipity: how acquired leaders create value in the integration of technology firms", by Melissa E. Graebner, McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, U.S.A. 2004.

Further reading

  • LCC 65-10112
  • (Manuscript written 1958).

External links

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  • BBC
  • Accidental discoveries. PBS
  • BBC Radio 4 series by Simon Singh
  • Wayback Machine (archived October 11, 2007)
  • Accidental Genius Book – anecdotes of serendipitous scientific discoveries.
  • ACM Paper on Creating serendipitous encounters in a geographically distributed community.
  • Serendipitous Information Retrieval : An Academic Research Publication by Elaine G. Toms
  • Programming for Serendipity – AAAI Technical Report FS-02-01
  • The Serendipity Equations
  • Psychology today's main article about serendipity

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