We recently sat down to chat with Lane Becker and Thor Muller, authors of “Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business.” Forty previously worked with Lane on the branding and website for Freestyle Capital, and so when he and Thor decided to write a book, they knew exactly who to come to for help introducing it to the world.
Lend an ear to this recording for highlights of our conversation with Lane and Thor about the book, their advice on how to make serendipity work for you, what it means to have a “geek brain,” and why failing fast is awesome (as long as you’re not a pilot).
To learn more about “Get Lucky,” visit getluckythebook.com to download a chapter for free.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
Lane on why he and Thor decided to write “Get Lucky:”
“Thor and I go way back. We have a company together (actually one that comes up in the book a lot) called Get Satisfaction, which is a company that provides customer service communities to businesses. It gets used by two-person startups, Proctor & Gamble, and everything in the middle. When we say ‘customer service community’ we mean it’s a tool that allows your customers to interact in a public forum with each other and with employees of the business in order to ask questions, solve problems, share ideas they might have for the company’s products or services, or different ways to use it. The product has these two benefits: one is to get your customers to know each other, get them more invested in you and your product. At the same time, it’s really good at helping companies defray customer service costs because every question that your customers answer is another question your customer service team doesn’t have to.
We started that company in 2007. We’d known each other for a couple of years before that. We’ve both done a bunch of different startups. Thor can speak for himself, but for me at least, writing a book was about not starting another company anytime soon.”
Thor on the difference between serendipity and luck:
“We actually mean something specific when we say ‘luck.’ There’s blind luck, and sometimes, lightening does strike. But that’s usually not what’s going on.
Serendipity has a specific meaning. It means when you’re looking for one thing, and you find something else. By looking for one thing, you’re exerting some kind of effort. You have a readiness of mind to find something. But usually, the problem is that serendipity is commonly used among entrepreneurs. Most startups would admit they stumbled on their idea, or they had another idea but what ended up working was something quite different. Entrepreneurs are naturally good at this. The problem is that big companies who all say they want to be more entrepreneurial, all of their methods, practices, and ways they organize their company all work against that. They have plans and want everyone to commit to that plan, and by having that plan they give everyone tunnel vision. What we want to allow is for companies of all sizes to be more adaptive and more entrepreneurial.”
Thor on the three parts of planned serendipity:
“1. Allow chance to happen in your life more. Take down the cubicles, and let more random collisions kick in.
2. Be able to pattern match or make connections between things that are not obviously connected.
3. Be able to take action on those chance discoveries that occur because of those connections.”
Lane on the “geek brain:”
“The subtitle of the chapter on preparation is actually ‘Anatomy of a Geek Brain.’ It’s not about geek in the traditional sense, where it’s someone who’s in technology or who’s a hacker. It’s any kind of geek or anyone who obsesses over something and is sort of geeky about it.
What’s so interesting is that when you start to look into the mindset of people who are like that, it makes sense in a counterintuitive sort of way. But when you look at someone who’s obsessive about a topic, being obsessive doesn’t mean being content. Someone who is obsessive about a topic (like sports) is always looking for something new or unexpected. They’re always admitting they don’t actually know everything about that topic, which is how they’re able to be open and receptive and see new things all the time. Being a geek is always admitting what you don’t know, not focusing on what you do know because you’re always seeking out new information, new experiences, and new opportunities.”
Lane on ways to put planned serendipity to work:
“Thor mentioned earlier that there are these three parts to serendipity: the ability to put yourself in front of new experiences, your ability to see serendipitous experiences when they happen, and your ability to act on them. Those three abilities are split across four skills. They’re the first four of our eight core skills of serendipity. They are the things you need to be able to do in order to experience serendipity.
The first skill is called motion. Motion is the raw material for serendipity. You can’t experience serendipity if you’re not putting yourself in the position to experience new things. You can’t stumble across something unexpected if you’re not putting yourself in a place where those unexpected things might be. Most of business life is about routine. You go in, you go to your office, you sit in the same place, you see the same people, you do the same things every day. Routine and process and control are no friend of serendipity.
Motion is the skill of breaking out of that routine and doing different things. Motion is basically new experiences in familiar environments.
A conference is a great example of that. You’ve gone to a new place with a bunch of new people but focused on a topic or in a setting that’s familiar to you. It’s an opportunity to experience new things that are highly relevant to you for whom they’re also relevant.
The second chapter is about preparation. It’s about the concept of the geek brain and the idea of being able to draw connections between things.
The third skill is divergence. The skill of divergence is the willingness and ability to act on something new. Divergence is the ability to change the plan, to do something different in response to external stimulus, to do something different in response to the serendipitous opportunity that showed up in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you find it and can see it. If you don’t do anything about it, it’s not serendipitous.
The fourth of the core skills is commitment. Commitment is all about commitment to a purpose as a business, and the willingness and ability to figure out which paths to take out of all the ones in front of you.
Commitment is far and away my favorite chapter in the book because commitment to me is having a commitment and a purpose in your business and using that to make smart business decisions and become a better business is hugely important. It’s a place where a lot of businesses fall down because we think having a purpose is about doing social good or doing something that’s disconnected from your business. But what we argue in this chapter and show example after example is having a purpose is the way to become a successful business. It’s a way to lens your decisions. It’s a way to say, ‘We created all these serendipitous opportunities, but how do we decide which ones to pick?’”
Thor on tangible things people can do to incorporate serendipity:
“One of the problems with the concept of ‘failing fast’ is that there are a lot of businesses where if you fail, people die. I don’t want my airline to fail fast. Yet, the airline industry is going through incredible changes, and they need to be able to use these skills as well.
While you may not be able to embrace divergence at the level of preparing an airplane for takeoff, you could certainly do it with your pricing model or thinking differently about how you do customer service or how you engage with customers.
A company that we talk about in the book that’s great at this is Amazon. They’ve done something really remarkable. They’ve created an entire business platform internally that allows them to spin up new businesses, whether it’s an auction company or a new media company or films on demand. They do it very quickly and can leverage shared assets on hand and see if they work. Then, if they don’t (which they often don’t), it’s dead in the water. But they took a couple paths, they branched several times, and now they have this amazing competitor to eBay in a different way.”