Researchers discover serendipity is more than a ‘happy accident’
Serendipity – a mysterious phenomenon often thought of as a ‘happy accident’ – is being investigated by a team of UCL researchers in order to design interactive systems that harness its power.
By collecting and analysing people’s ‘serendipity stories’, researchers at UCL Interaction Centre and their partners hope to design an interactive system that makes us more prepared for recognising serendipity when it happens and, crucially, supports us in acting on it.
In order to understand serendipity better, the team asked 39 academics and creative professionals to tell them their memorable examples of serendipity, either from their work or everyday lives.
The ‘serendipity stories’ told by their interviewees include a student being offered an internship at a journalism lab because someone from the lab noticed their enthusiastic journalism-related tweets, an experimental chef getting the idea create a sea-salt-cured mackerel dish when watching his daughter collect stones on the beach and an architecture student watching a BBC documentary on honey bees and getting the idea of using the hexagonal shape of honeycomb to create a novel building design.
Dr Stephann Makri (UCL Interaction Centre), a researcher on the project said:
“By looking for patterns in peoples’ memorable examples of serendipity, we’ve found that it is more than just a ‘happy accident’. It also involves insight – an ‘aha’ moment of realisation.”
This led the team to propose a new definition of the phenomenon based on their findings: serendipity is when unexpected circumstances and an insightful ‘aha’ moment leads to a valuable and unanticipated