Seeding Serendipity

If you know someone who is waiting to be called upon by the universe, please inform this person that the universe is still using an analog dial-up phone and the waiting list is too long. Instead of waiting for the call, advise this person to make the call, because after all, unlike the universe, we have smartphones. Use it smartly.

John Hagel believes that “we can significantly alter the probabilities of luck through choices we make on a daily basis” He calls it “shaping serendipity.” John focuses on a specific form of luck — “the luck of unexpected encounters with others that leads to new insights.”

I want to divide such unexpected encounters into two groups: the first group consists of people that we do not know and have neither seen nor heard of them, and the second group consists of people that we do not know, but we have seen or heard about them; moreover, we want to meet them one day. The first group resonates perfectly with shaping serendipity’s domain, but the second group needs a gentle push before the shaping serendipity can yield its wonder.

I obtained John’s go-ahead to hack into the shaping serendipity concept, and I am humbly taking shaping serendipity one step backward by trying to introduce a new concept that can be phrased as “seeding serendipity”. A prerequisite to the above mentioned specific form of luck — a deliberately predesigned pathway to amplify the chances of success of the projected unexpected encounters with preidentified people. Luck and deliberate predesign, projected and preidentified…I know these sounds paradoxical, but allow me to take the chance to explain.

A few years ago, I listened to a podcast about the importance of reading: the moral of the podcast was that if you commit yourself to read one book per month for an entire year (i.e. 12 books in a year) in your professional domain, you will become an expert in said domain. Doing so will place you ahead of your coworkers by astronomic proximity and will leverage your chances of occurrences such as receiving a promotion, salary increases, bonuses, and etcetera. As usual, nothing is guaranteed in life, but if you commit yourself to do so the reward will go way beyond the immediate monetary gratification. That said, you need a different reading ritual to achieve such rewards, click here if you are interested in knowing more about the ritual. To help you with a few quality readings checks this post. But for this post, I want to ignite your curiosity to uphold yourself to a more challenging journey.

The above reading journey (i.e., 12 books in a year) inspired me to take a more challenging and audacious journey: a journey towards knowing a new person each month for a year (a serendipitous journey towards knowing 12 unique individuals in a year). This journey is not like Facebook’s approach in knowing others. The journey of 12 serendipitous encounters underpinned by a deeper meaning and aspiration: a concept that I call “leveraged thinking”. This concept is a thinking approach that allows you to design your action by leveraging its potential outcomes. But how can we seed serendipity? By germinating it (serendipity) in fertile soil (narrative). Let us see how.

On February 2018 I started this serendipitous journey which was encapsulated with a clear narrative “social fabric enrichment.” I guess that I need to imitate John’s approach to unpacking the narrative, which will go like this — a real call to action for all of us to enrich our social connectivity. Enrichment indicates that we got fed up with how some of us are using social media in distancing us from each other with an unprecedented hatred, and zero tolerance towards our differences, and that most of us are eager to fix this situation. Enrichment is an open-ended approach; there is no ceiling to how we might enrich our relationships, let’s get closer to each other by all means. Social indicates that we all must take part in it, because it is a cumulative responsibility. Social also suggests that we need to get to know each other (once again) as human and not with a cosmetic personality hidden behind artificial corporates’ titles or professional acronyms. Fabric, indicates that we are real and not virtual (atoms and not bits), so we need to behave accordingly. It is a call to utilize our virtual existence on social media to strengthen our physical engagements. In simple (yet, frustrating) words, the narrative is asking all of us to harness our smartphones to find each other smartly, and then place our phones into our pockets and look at each other’s faces. Yes, let us try to understand each other by looking directly at our eyes, explore our faces, and observe our body language. Adding a few emojis to digital text is a poor way to express our compassion toward one another.

So I decided to “be the change that I want to see”. I decided to use social media to deliberately strengthen my social connectivity, and Twitter was my gateway for this journey. I have a very long story with Twitter, if interested, one day you can read it here.

Technology (via social media) narrowed the proximity between us and the rest of the world to only one click (the smartest people on our planet are a click away from us), so why we don’t leverage on such blessing? All that we need is to use this one click, smartly to take our virtual relationships into the real world.

The seeding serendipity journey is straightforward: monthly I select an exceptional candidate from my Twitter’s following list, and I then send an invitation to meet face to face. To control the bandwidth of this post I am omitting the administrative part (selection criteria, methodology, follow up process, etc.), my intention is merely to introduce the concept.

To increase the chances of getting this job done, you must put your invitation in the right context. Below is an example of one of my invitation request. Furthermore, I suggest reading this post by Steve Blank if you are planning to invite busy people.

You know what, let me share with you below a few examples of the fantastic people who accepted my invitations. I owe them a few words of appreciation for their kindness and valuable time by reflecting on what I learned from them.

Suhail Algosaibi

Respect: Suhail managed to embody the value of respect in his DNA in a unique way. Respect in Suhail’s daily life is taking control over his saying and doing. His respectful manner is harnessing, nurturing, and leading others with his intelligence. I have met many respectful, intelligent people, and most of them place their intelligence before their humbleness as an artificial shield that resembles their strength. With Suhail, his respectful character is shielding his intelligence, and he will offer you his utmost attention. Once you are done talking, he will provide you with bite-sized chunks of wisdom (the correct dose of intellectual calories per your brain’s needs).

Hazem Janahi

Passion: The spark of Hazem’s passion (helping others) can melt an iceberg. The moment we talked I felt that I was sitting with a close friend. Hazem’s passion derived by actions, and not merely by echoing fancy slogans. I was astonished by his openness and willingness to share his knowledge, even the personal ones. Being kind and passionately willing to extend your hand to help others in the professional world is a scarce commodity these days. Hazem has a lot of these types of commodities.

Ali Mohsen

Determination: Reading about how entrepreneurs conquer challenges is a useful motivational push. But meeting a young entrepreneur who fought these battles since an early age is an eye-opening experience. Indeed, Ali opened my eyes in this domain. I always believed that if you don’t have a warrior spirit, you should not enter the entrepreneurship war zone. I saw such a spirit in Ali.

Important note: don’t expect that all people will accept your invitation. If someone rejects it or ignores it, don’t take it personally. Move on and wish them the best. And if you have an ego issue, don’t try sending such invitation (publicly) on social media.

Now let’s go back to the core of our post and lets put the pieces together (leveraged thinking, seeding serendipity, and narrative).

As illustrated above, seeding serendipity backed by leveraged thinking, and encapsulated with a compelling narrative can generate multiple (immediate, short-term, mid-term, and long-term) layers of outcomes. Seeding serendipity is like growing a pumpkin. Not all pumpkins will grow to be giant, prize-winning pumpkins. As you can see, in the above journey, achieving any layer is a humble attempt toward our social fabric enrichment.

John clearly explained in his shaping serendipity concept that “we can increase the probability of that kind of serendipity through a wide range of choices and actions”. He also elaborated that “we could choose environments that increase the likelihood of unexpected encounters that result in valuable new insights”. With seeding serendipity, I am suggesting taking action way before (maybe years) such unexpected encounters. So, when the right moment (environment) appears, seeding serendipity will leverage shaping serendipity. Let us see how.

With seeding serendipity, you are building a bridge (new connection), your raw materials are basic human values (i.e., honesty, integrity, appreciation, transparency, encouragements, etc.). No commercial or financial transactional aspiration is allowed at this foundational stage. The intention is crystal clear to both (I am meeting you to thank you for what are you doing, and to encourage you to do more, and perhaps to share/exchange some of our tacit knowledge). If you are genuinely honest in such endeavor, rest assured that you will manage to implant a unique seed in such new connections, which can then be leveraged through John’s shaping serendipity concept.

The point of seeding serendipity is to clear the pathway for the shaping serendipity to focus on what matters. How? Usually all unexpected encounters take place within a stressed timeframe (e.g., meeting someone special in the airport lounge: both will be waiting for our flights, do you think that it is an easy task to click with someone special and build a unique relationship and then jump in sharing knowledge and building trust and unlocking new insight in under 15 minutes?).

As per the below illustration, you will see that seeding serendipity can take care of the prerequisites once and for all, so that shaping serendipity can work on building trust and unlocking new insight, and maybe reaching the level of collaborative growth.

In case you are curious about the meaning of collaborative growth, it is a simple realization that the cost of competition is greater than the cost of collaboration while the reward of collaboration is greater than the reward of competition. I am trying to draw attention to the idea that even people who are in direct competition in their fields can gain more if they can understand the below illustration.

Let me emphasize on one point — seeding serendipity is not a friendship request (avoid putting any pressure on your invitee). For example, the above respectful gentlemen and I might never meet again, and even if we meet, we might never become friends. But, the undeniable truth is that whenever we meet in the future, there will always be a thick layer of mutual respect. Such layer of respect can do wonders in extracting the best out of us in any environment regardless of the time frame. So far, the outcomes of this journey are supporting my above statement. One day I might share with you the fruits yielded so far from this journey.

As usual, all my posts reach a sudden juncture of “platform thinking.” So let us see if seeding serendipity can add value at this juncture. First, we need to choose a platform-based business. I must admit that this juncture was the toughest one. I struggled with finding the best platform to place seeding serendipity in until I came across James Currier’s post which led me to Blitzscaling (amazing book by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh) which helped me zeroed in on choosing the right platform-based example, LinkedIn.

Important note: Blitzscaling is a must-read book, but If you are a hardcore, closed-minded warrior with dozens of scars from your battles with industrial age-based businesses, and you are not willing to unlearn the old lessons, don’t even bother to read it.

In simple language, LinkedIn is a platform-based business that allows people who are looking for jobs, and companies who are looking for people (employees), to find each other more efficiently by removing the traditional middleman (recruiting and headhunter firms) from the picture.

So how can seeding serendipity thinking help LinkedIn? It can help by pushing it out of its platform and ecosystem domain, and pushing it to explore the surrounding universe. Platform, ecosystem, and the universe…can anyone tell us what is happening here? Okay, maybe you need to read part four of my story-telling white paper first. In a nutshell, it is about a tool that can help you to map a key player on your platform, as well as discover new segments of noncustomers. The moment you are in the universe layer, you will be bound by the teaching of the blue ocean shift’s noncustomer framework. Let’s have a visual representation for the ease of understanding.

LinkedIn revolutionized recruitment businesses which were mainly based on pipe-based businesses to a highly efficient platform-based business. LinkedIn enabled direct, efficient, and dynamic interactions between supply and demand. Period.

Seeding serendipity thinking may help LinkedIn to navigate its attention toward an “unexplored” nonusers segment by establishing a new thread (e.g.., an experimental thread on edge, so that it will not trigger its immune system). Within this thread, the seeding serendipity will push LinkedIn to think backward (from platform to pipe). The trick is to start with a simple question: from where does LinkedIn get its professional users (job seekers)?

LinkedIn true asset is not merely manifested in its database of resumes. The real asset is its vibrant community of professionals behind the resumes. At some point in their life, these professionals (assets) were the end products of our educational system (unfortunately).

Thinking backward (towards pipe model), means securing those assets by bringing them on board, way before they become eligible to enter the workforce.

LinkedIn should approach such assets at a younger age (while they are students) so that they can amplify the chances that they will stay on its platform all the way until retirement, once they are in the workforce arena. This is precisely what other industries are doing. One example of this is within the sports industry. Consider how FC Barcelona nurtured and prepared its young talent all the way to the La Liga and El Clasico. Yes, even LinkedIn can nurture such young students to enter the professional territory.

But how can LinkedIn use such seeding serendipity thinking to attract the youth? If you paid any attention to the first part of this post, you would immediately answer this question. Yes, we encapsulate it with a compelling narrative. LinkedIn must embrace a new narrative for the above suggested new thread. Let us face a harsh reality, we all know that our kids study very hard for almost a decade and a half to get a piece of paper (certificate). In the eyes of Human Resource departments, these certificates are merely a letter of guarantee from institutions (universities) stating that the holder of the certificate is eligible to join the workforce, is able to learn new skills and talents, and can be part of the valued chain. These certificates do not guarantee that the candidate will add value to the corporation.

Let us look at it from a different angle. When a company buys a machine (asset), it must make sure that the machine will produce the desired value. How can the company make sure that the machine can deliver the value? Simply by reading the machine’s manual. On the other hand, when a company wants to hire a fresh graduate (asset), the certificate provides little assurance that the candidate will produce the desired value.

What if LinkedIn can be a game changer in bridging this gap of uncertainty? What if LinkedIn can help students to generate a new profile and assist them in building an unprecedented profile (integration between their educational background and professional readiness)?

One might ask, but why should LinkedIn do that? Okay, if I am a student and I built such a profile on LinkedIn (over my studying years), do you think that I will leave such platform when I want to find a job? Having such rich, detailed profiles in one place can unlock a universe of potentials for users, corporations, as well as for LinkedIn. For fun, let us give it (the profile) a name “Edufessional” (part educational profile and part professional profile). The existence of such a profile can accurately forecast the right demand to be matched to the right supply, at the right place and right time.

The level of the stickiness of such profile will stand as an unprecedented edufessional-intensive competitive strategic moat, that can protect LinkedIn from any future attempt of disruption.

Essentially, LinkedIn can choose a compelling and standalone narrative backed by the seeding serendipity thinking for the above thread, “e.g., Get Ready.” Let us apply John’s approach once again in unpacking such condensed narrative: an energetic call to action to the younger generation, get ready way before you enter the workforce. Get ready academically as well as professionally the moment you put your first footstep into the real world. Only those who are willing to get ready can tap into an ocean of professionals eager to transfer their expertise and knowledge to help in unlocking your real potential. We (LinkedIn) will surround you with the finest brains, and most talented professionals, and the latest technology to show you the way forward. Get ready to show the world that you are ready. We are ready to get you ready. Are you ready?

If you are interested to explore more on platform narrative framework, visit part five of my story-telling white paper.

How can the narrative attract the targeted younger generation? Let us explore two possible ways. Organic virality: as a father having an account on LinkedIn, the moment I see such a compelling narrative “get ready” addressed to the benefit of my children I will immediately persuade my kids (Faisal & Reem) to create their primary edufessional identities (i.e., existing professionals on LinkedIn will be a trusted host to this new virus, and will make sure to pass it to our kids).

The second way could potentially be a collaboration with the educational ecosystem (schools, universities, etc.), and with this thread, LinkedIn could reconfigure its infrastructure to connect the richness of its network with gigantic databases of students’ educational profile via their schools and universities (i.e., enabling official educational records to be available on LinkedIn).

Let us tap into our imagination to explore one or two scenarios on how LinkedIn can leverage the concept of seeding serendipity;

- LinkedIn can be a talent compass that accurately and efficiently navigates corporations to the definite asset. Let’s see how this might work:

Let us assume that Apple wants to open a new regional office in the Kingdom of Bahrain by 2020. To make sure that they can find the right talent, they pay a sponsorship fee to LinkedIn to establish a talent compass program in the Kingdom: opening a training boot camp by leveraging on its network effects of professionals and on a pool of energetic young students who are about to graduate. Neither Apple nor LinkedIn will be required to exist in the Kingdom physically. Apple will appoint LinkedIn, and LinkedIn will enable and facilitate a new form of interactions. I guess I just shared with you a blue ocean idea (creating a new market by enabling a brand-new interaction).

- LinkedIn can act as a knowledge funnel, linking retired professionals with college students (e.g., every 5 to 10 students in a similar geographic area can establish a validated learning cell and can invite a retired professional to coach/mentor them on their assignments). This would be a merge between textbook based knowledge and tacit knowledge. Again, such programs could be sponsored by universities, government entities, charitable organizations, and etc., or instead sponsored by the private sector (any company who sponsor such program will be given option contracts, which can be exercised to offer jobs for the elite students upon their graduation). Such an option contract can allow the sponsored companies to follow on the progress of the students.

Please use the below responses section to use your imagination in exploring other scenarios and unleash your creativity. You know what, let me give you one last crazy idea to ignite your creativity:

I humbly believe that LinkedIn’s executives must click on their “About” icon on their web-page and genuinely re-imagine themselves: Who they are? What they can do? LinkedIn must ask themselves few basic questions.

Important note: remember, with seeding serendipity you must forgo a mindset of immediate monetary gratification. As said before, no commercial or financial transactional aspiration is allowed at the foundational stage of seeding serendipity. Seeding serendipity is a leverage mechanism toward unlocking future potentials.

A heartfelt thank you to the people who inspired me in writing this post (John Hagel, James Currier, Reid Hoffman, Suhail Algosaibi, Hazem Janahi, Ali Mohsen, Faisal Al Madani and Reem Al Madani). A special thanks to Twitter and LinkedIn.