I had the privilege to discuss Prof Christian Busch’s best-selling book The Serendipity Mindset the Art and Science of Creating Good Luck in a recent webinar. I first read about this book in social media in the middle of 2020 and it has been discussed many times since then. Prof Busch who teaches both at New York University and London School of Economics has raised to prominence with many key ideas around innovation and leadership in management schools. The book essentially says that 50% of things that happen in our lives are by chance, unexpected, trigger events. It is our response and effort to these unexpected events that turn them into opportunities, make them meaningful with positive outcomes or smart luck. Serendipity, in a nutshell, is an active process of connecting the dots to create better outcomes and situations. This idea can be applied across domains.
Serendipity in Cities and Beyond
Cities are eco systems of different people who are capable of becoming what they can become in a highly networked world. Cities are not just about infrastructure and amenities; safety and security. They are hubs of innovation, creativity, commerce, culture and community. A good city is one that bridges ties between communities, helps in access, diminishes inequalities and enables people to connect in meaningful ways. Good city planning and design can help create good spaces that in turn can make serendipity happen. Art spaces, for example trigger people to express themselves and find excuses to talk to other people they don’t know. Chance encounters often play out in parks, cafes, and libraries. Collaboration and co-creation are therefore imminent to meet the surmounting urban challenges like climate risks and inequalities. Bridging network is the handiwork of good city planning and design.
Four Pillars of the Serendipity Mindset for Pressing Urban Challenges
Uncertainty is negotiated on an everyday basis in cities especially those located in the Global South. By definition, the exact moment and outcome of any event is not knowable so we prepare (both as individuals or as collectives) by doing the groundwork. This helps in building resilience.
Most of our urban population live outside the Master Plan, the limits of the formal city in informal living and working conditions. This is epitomised by the slum- a place of enterprise and agency. Innovation clusters, incubation centres simply copied from one context to another ignore the underlying indigenous culture and mindset of the people. That is the reason they fail.
How do individuals negotiate with social, economic and political structures on an everyday basis to live their lives in cities? Urban populations living in uncertain conditions of Global South cities are constantly using agency to access basic services and opportunities with different societal structures.
Cities need to be flexible in uncertain times. Plan little and leave the rest for human agency. The Master Plan that charts out the destiny of cities for twenty years may have to be reimagined in bits, parts, delved deeply and structured systematically.
In sum education, awareness and training are crucial to nudge people to develop a mindset that addresses urban challenges more effectively!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
Dr. Binti Singh is an urban sociologist and holds a Ph.D. (in urban studies) and an M.Phil. (in Planning and Development) from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Bombay), Mumbai, India. She is Associate Professor at KRVIA, Mumbai and engaged in diverse international research programs like Building Resilient Urban Communities/BREUCOM supported by the European Union and academic collaborations like PIVOT supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK. She is also Book Series Editor on Urban Futures with Routledge, Taylor and Francis and Associate Editor with Oxford Urbanists. She has contributed to several peer-reviewed research journals and edited books. Her articles have also featured in Domus India and Business World Smart Cities publications. Her research engages with questions on the built environment, urban policy and governance, urban trends and urban theory.