Luck By Chance?
‘Serendipity’ is one of those words that just sound so lovable and full of optimism, of happy coincidences, of good tidings to come.
If one were to look up the word’s origins, a reading of a Wikipedia entry, that of Horace Walpole’s 1754 retelling of an old Arab tale would be in order.
The tale went thus ( and I now paraphrase the Wikipedia entry)
“The king of Serendip (modern-day Lanka) sends his three sons traveling for a wider education.
No sooner do the three princes arrive abroad than they trace clues to identify precisely a camel they have never seen. They conclude that the camel is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. When they later encounter the merchant who has lost the camel, they report their observations to him. He accuses them of stealing the camel and takes them to the Emperor Beramo, where he demands punishment.
Beramo asks how they are able to give such an accurate description of the camel if they have never seen it. It is clear from the princes’ replies that they have used small clues to infer cleverly the nature of the camel and it was neither luck nor physical evidence that they were being guided by.
Grass had been eaten from the side of the road where it was less green, so the princes had inferred that the camel was blind on the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road the size of a camel’s tooth, they inferred they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was evident because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other.
(As for the woman’s presence, that was a combination of some clever deduction and princely fore-knowledge!)
At this moment a traveler enters the scene to say that he has just found a missing camel wandering in the desert. Beramo spares the lives of the Three Princes, lavishes rich rewards on them and appoints them to be his advisors.”
So, therefore, what is Serendipity (if not wholly happy happenstance)?
It is not luck as most of us believe, it is not a happy happenstance either. It is a rather romantic notion to think of it as a cosmic coming together of events that will lead us to somehow make better business decisions or satisfy our customers better, for example!
It is the rather clever piecing of seemingly unrelated pieces of information and data, to bring about a whole. To bring about a picture that others have missed. And then apply available expertise to gather Insights from this picture.
I believe good Customer Insights driven, Analytics should do just that.
Most of us are content to really “know” our Customers with a combination of ‘gut, chance, and luck”. Equally bizarre, we are also content to rely solely on all of the above to make decisions that affect our Customer and our Business.
Time to move on to something, dare I say, more Insightful and let Serendipity really happen?