Kairos and serendipity – catching the moment of chance or the happy accident

You are twenty years old? Your life is ahead of you and it will offer moments of chance and happy accidents

You are reaching the age of 20? The whole life is ahead of you? Many moments of chance and many happy accidents are waiting for you. Keep an open mind and catch them.

There are two pictures that support me to continue keep an open mind discovering the world, learning from it, and reinventing my life: First KAIROS – he is the personification of the moment of chance – and second “serendipity” – this is “the happy accident”.

Let me explain why these two pictures are important to me, the baby boomer, and why they may be important for you as well.

KAIROS – he has a tuft of hair and is bold at the back of his head

About 30 years ago, I visited the pretty fishing town of Trogir in Dalmatia. In the local museum I came across Kairos. He has wings and he flies around – fast. When we accidentally  come across him, we must immediately identify him as THE opportunity and snatch him at the curl of his forehead. If we do  not catch his tuft of hair, KAIROS flies by and we have missed THIS moment of chance. It is not possible to snatch KAIROS from behind, as the back of his head is bold. I was impressed and bought a copy of KAIROS engraved in stone. Later I gave it to friend that had given the name of “KAIROS” to his newly founded company.

Kairos Source: Wikipedia about Kairos

In March 15th 2013, my NZZ newspaper published an article entitled “Master KAIROS – trying to capture the moment of creativity”.  The article relates KAIROS with insights that often happen accidentally. In science, in art, in the career or when finding the perfectly matching house and partner in life. The lucky individuals just see the chance and catch the tuft of hair, when they happen to run into KAIROS.

There are opportunities, when we do not expect them. And because we do not expect them, it is difficult to see them. It needs an open mind, good observation and astuteness to recognize these short moments of chance and they can be easily missed. KAIROS is the personification of the good opportunity. In German we call this “Schicksalsmoment” which means “fateful turn of life”.

Three princes in the country of Serendip

The NZZ article continues with an old Persian folktale. It is about the three princes of Serendip that “were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of” (wikipedia for serendipity) – and this is where the term “serendipity” is based upon. In 1945, Robert K. Merton wrote the book “the travels and adventures of Serendipity. A study in sociological semantics and the sociology of science.” Wikipedia illustrates serendipity with the pileated woodpecker that the photographer did not notice, when taking the picture, but only afterwards, when looking at the foto.

serendipity Source: wikipedia for serendipity

Discoveries happen in a state of intuitive attention

The principles behind serendipity and KAIROS are the basis of some great discoveries in science. Discoveries such as Penicillin happened by accident or as a by product of research. They happened in a state of intuitive attention and after having worked at a topic for a longer time. They have not happened out of nothing. For these “productive sideways of creativity”, says the NZZ article, Alfred Jarry has created a new word and a new discipline: “Pataphysics” which is dedicated to researching exceptions. Jarry claims that the exceptions are an irregular space that follows its own roots. Pataphysics does think beyond “what is” and explores “what is not”. This is called the “sense of possibility” or in German “Möglichkeitssinn”.

I believe social platforms have the potential to support creativity and innovation

I think that KAIROS, serendipity and pataphysics are also related to the principle of “emergent collaboration” that McAfee identified for social platforms (coined “enterprise 2.0”) where relations and discussions take unexpected turns and lead to new findings. I experienced that on the enterprise internal social platform, when still working in a global company. And now that I am no longer part of that company, I observe this in the Internet, and also in the WordPress blogs that I am following. Of course, discipline and good filtering are needed in order to focus on relevant information.

Yes, you are twenty years old. Your life is ahead of you and I am confident that it will offer moments of chance and happy accidents

KAIROS and the princes of Serendip may support you to catch the right moments – for finding the right friends and the best partner of life, for finding the best matching formation and for setting out on a career path that creates satisfaction and acknowledgement (which I think has to do with remaining independent, social, open-minded for discoveries as well as creative and innovative).

When life hits back hard at you, look up, look ahead, and pay attention to KAIROS and the princes of Serendip that will offer new moments of chance and happy accidents.

3 thoughts on “Kairos and serendipity – catching the moment of chance or the happy accident

  1. Renato says:

    Very nice article.

  2. peterspetra says:

    thank you, Reto. Petra

  3. […] “Engental”, I would not have found out about this salt extraction. This reminds me of Kairos and the princes of Serendip that I blogged about half a year […]

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