We all probably experienced this moment when a solution to a problem comes to us right before falling asleep. This phenomenon is part of a bigger concept called serendipity: the faculty of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.
I am not a huge fan of this word, but it can teach us a thing or two about the ideation process.
Serendipity is often used to describe inventions and discoveries, and how luck plays an important part in the creative process. Serendipity is not the result of luck or fate though: it’s the result of a proactive mindset, not something that comes to you by itself. As Robert Greene puts it, you have to make room for serendipity to occur.
The question is, how do we cultivate serendipity?
Evidences show that ideation and creativity are not entirely conscious processes. You have to work hard and immerse yourself in problems as frequently as possible, but you also need to let your mind rest to solve complex associations. That’s how non-trivial solutions are born. Even if we’re not consciously looking for a solution, we can count on our brains to process loads of information that do not make sense at first, at an unconscious level.
Serendipity is a muscle to train. The same principle can be applied to writing. It’s usually when we’re not on the look-out for new ideas that our muses will send some. This is why it’s of primary importance to always have a notebook or a smartphone by our side to scribble down our fragmented thoughts. You never know what kind of association might emerge from them later on. However, it’s of primary importance to understand ideas do not come to us right away. We still have to sit down. We still have to write every day. We still have to expand our senses beyond what’s visible. And we still have to be curious.