Coincidence as a success factor?: This economist explains how you can use coincidence for your career

This text was first published by Capital.

Coincidence as a success factor?: This economist explains how you can use coincidence for your career

This text was first published by Capital.

Mr. Busch, your book is called "Success Factor Coincidence". Are you saying that success depends on coincidences? Let's put it this way: you can work on having more positive coincidences that bring success. Actually, one thinks that success is either coincidence or hard work. But the idea is to prepare as well as possible for the unexpected.

So how can I prepare for the unexpected? One of my favorite avenues is the hook strategy. This is about setting points that other people can randomly link to. For example, if someone asks what I do for a living, I would say more than that. You could say that you're studying philosophy or the metaverse and that you enjoy playing the piano. Then it could happen that someone knows someone, they get in touch and new opportunities arise. This is a good strategy, especially for job seekers.

Christian Busch directs the CGA Global Economy Program at New York University and teaches at the London School of Economics (LSE). On February 28, Murmann Verlag will publish his book "Erfolgsfaktor Unfall", which has already been internationally successful under the title "The Serendipity Mindset".

It sounds like I have to be alert in every situation in order not to potentially miss an opportunity. The exciting thing is that some people do it intuitively. But you can also train yourself to do it. Whenever you talk to someone, you can consider whether you can bring a person or idea into the conversation that suits the other person. At some point, the brain gets used to seeing this connection and you no longer have to think actively.

The key term in your research for this is serendipity. How does it differ from chance? There is "passive luck", i.e. "mere" chance. This includes, for example, the birth lottery, where some are simply luckier than others. There is a lot of social inequality. And then there is serendipity, a kind of combination between chance and human action. Something unexpected happens here too, but then it depends on what we do with it.

Do you have an example? Imagine that you accidentally spill your drink on the person next to you in a coffee shop. The person looks kind of interesting. Now you can excuse yourself, go and think about what could have happened. Or you start a conversation and the person might become your co-founder or project partner. That would be "active happiness".

But how do I know if I've just spilled my drink or if I've got a career opportunity ahead of me? Often it's about realizing what's important to you. Do you like working with people, do you like going to the office or not? The more you do this, the more it sharpens the filters. If the person in the café says something that doesn't match your ideas, you don't need to connect the dots. It is interesting here that others often recognize better what suits us. So when we clearly communicate what we want or are looking for, other coincidences can also create for us.

What do you mean? Maybe you got a job offer in tech but don't really want to take it because you've never worked there before. However, your best friend recognizes that you have the skills required for the job, such as project management or relationship building, even if the field is new.

Does serendipity depend more on external factors or on attitude? We do a lot of research in contexts of poverty, where people have little. Out of necessity, many there develop a mindset to make something positive out of the unexpected and to see meaning in it. We can learn a lot from them.

So, above all, do you need an optimistic attitude in order to get ahead? It's not necessarily about optimism, but about seeing potential and connections in everything. Even if you are not always optimistic or rather introverted, serendipity can happen to you, for example in good networks.

How can I build the right network? If you start from scratch, it helps to identify interesting communities and then, for example, attend an offline event. This is where you can ask a question, incorporating the hooks we talked about. It would be something like: "As someone who is very interested in economics and works as a consultant, I would like to ask what you think of xy." This draws a bit of attention to yourself without being intrusive. Maybe that gets people to make contact and you get into a group that you didn't know before. This is also a good way to avoid having to go everywhere yourself.

In contrast to the right mindset, this sounds very strategic. Of course, it should be authentic and not manipulative. But bringing curiosity into the conversation is always a first step. If you then make it more concrete, there are always people who react to it. Conversely, it's interesting to ask yourself what keeps you from being serendipity. Why didn't I ask the question at the conference or contact the CEO who gave the presentation?

And why not? For many, it's the fear of rejection or that an idea isn't perfect enough. That's why we should rephrase. Instead of asking what happens if I do it, rather: What happens if I don't do it?

What about career plans? Should I still set goals at all or trust that I will approach the CEO at the right moment and turn chance into success? i love planning It is good because it helps us identify our values, interests, and priorities. But a plan should be used more as a guide or compass. My former mentor used to say, "Christian, people like you sometimes think there's only one way to Rome and then you see there are many ways to Rome. But maybe you don't want to be in Rome at all." You have to be open enough not to see the unexpected just as an enemy.

During your research, you spoke to many successful people and saw patterns in how they all took advantage of chance. What exactly do the patterns look like? One of the core patterns, similar to career planning, is that while they set a strategy, they are open to adaptation. They share their idea, but say the way to implement it might change with new information. And they often have a good gut instinct that isn't naïve or impulsive, but one that can be trusted.

It sounds like experience is what serendipity is all about. Sometimes yes, because some things require prior knowledge. On the other hand, you shouldn't have tunnel vision because you think you already have the best solution. This is the case for many who have been in their job for a long time. But often you also have serendipity when something completely new happens. You can train your gut feeling by linking your gut and brain more closely and trying to make more mature decisions.

Can companies also do something about serendipity? In some companies, job postings and procedures are very rigid. It is good when employees can link points. That should be valued more, also because it can actually create value. How we conduct job interviews or what we ask in the assessment can provide information about the mindset of a person. In weekly meetings, we can build questions like, "What surprised you last week?" This legitimizes the unexpected as a normal part of what we do.

What about training courses on serendipity? Some universities already have courses that complement traditional strategy teaching. We then discuss how we can plan for the unexpected. This is exactly what companies should work through and consider how the unexpected can be incorporated into existing plans.

In the book you describe how the CV seems logical to us in hindsight – although a lot of it was probably coincidence. What are the top three tips for preparing for the unknown and anticipating career opportunities? First, in any situation, you can ask yourself what good things could come of it. If you have received a rejection for a job application, you can also see it as an opportunity to expand your network or to find an even more suitable job. Secondly, there are always ways to make a monotonous situation more exciting. Maybe you can tick a box and expand your network. Third, I would recommend seeing a company less as a career step and more as a platform. No matter what position I'm in, I can reflect on how to find my own meaning in it and accomplish projects related to my passions.

Finally, we need to examine a saying: Can I really earn happiness? It's very much along the lines of that. Much depends on our way of thinking. We often expect something negative and unexpected to happen. We should also prepare for positive coincidences.