Increasing your ‘serendipity surface’

Warning: half-baked thought ahead!

Washing machines

To increase your chances of success in life, you need to increase the number of people, ideas, and situations to which you are exposed. The notion of an ‘attack surface’ is a useful metaphor here, as we essentially want the inverse of it:

“The attack surface of a software environment is the sum of the different points (the “attack vectors”) where an unauthorized user (the “attacker”) can try to enter data to or extract data from an environment.” (Wikipedia)

Obviously, from a software security standpoint, you want to minimise that attack surface. If you’re looking to actively build a network that you can use at some point in the future, you need to increase that surface. I’ll call that ‘serendipity surface’.

As a consultant or freelancer, it’s easy to call the days between paid gigs ‘business development’ or ‘time to write my book’. What we should be doing, and what I’ve got lined up this week, is maximising our serendipity surface. 

This, to me, is one of the reasons why being a full-time employee is so unappealing. Your serendipity surface is often constrained in such situations given your day-to-day physical environment and routine tasks. But, more than that, your boss/manager gets to veto how you expand that serendipity surface, affecting your long-term ability to mature, grow, and develop in different directions.

An under-used way of increasing your serendipity surface, especially these days, is to be a different type of person in different situations, to have different ‘spheres’ or worlds. You don’t have to take this to the extremes of Fernando Pessoa (who created dozens of heteronyms) but, for example, have a distinct online/offline lives. Similarly, there’s no reason why you have to have one social network account, but play with different identities and ways of being ‘you’ online. 

To me, the underlying tension in society in 2016 is an existential crisis, fuelled by constant commands to ‘be yourself’. We are Legion. Perhaps your serendipity surface is not one surface, but many. Perhaps it depends on the time of the year as to what version of you people get. Perhaps it depends whether you’re meeting online or offline. Perhaps it’s related to the social object around which you’re gathering?

Expecting your career, social life, or significant relationship to develop in new, unexpected ways when you do the same things over and over again is, after all, how Einstein defined insanity. Increase your serendipity surface!


Update: As of next week, I’ll be working out of Campus North every Monday in an attempt to walk the walk…