How To Design A More Serendipitous, Creative Life

Boredom and routine are bad for your brain power. We need change and a certain amount of randomness to inspire creative breakthroughs. Here's a quick guide for making space for chance.

Serendipity is a hot concept these days. Chance encounters and random inputs supposedly lead to new ideas—which is one reason Marissa Mayer canceled Yahoo’s telecommuting arrangements last winter.

But just because you’re in the office doesn’t mean you’ll be exposed to anything new, exciting, or inspiring. Indeed, for many of us, there is no place less serendipitous than the office desk. If you spend a good chunk of your waking hours there, here are some ways to up the odds that something interesting will trigger a new thought or two:

1. Spice up your commute

If you commute by bus or train, stop by the magazine rack at the station and—once a week—pick up a magazine you wouldn’t otherwise. If you’re stuck in the car, listen to a new station or grab a CD from your spouse or your kids that isn’t normally your taste. You can also try downloading a new audiobook each week on a topic that doesn’t seem immediately related to your job. A change in your commute—as with other types of rerouting—can provide a boost to your brain.

2. Visit different bathrooms

There’s no rule that you have to use the one that’s closest to you. If you try other ones, you may meet new people, or get reacquainted with old ones, on the way. Also: see above.

3. Start a lunch club

Once a week, get a group to visit a new restaurant. The more exotic the cuisine, the better, and if you vary the participants, better yet.

4. Take better breaks

Instead of surfing your favorite sites, cruise over to the Poetry Foundation’s website to read their poem of the day, or visit the Louvre’s website to check out a painting in the collection. A Khan Academy video on something random (multivariable equations?) will probably get your brain going in a different direction than your inbox can. And nothing inspires, of course, like beauty.

5. Say hello in the elevator

Best case scenario, you strike up a conversation. Worst case scenario, things are a little less awkward when the elevator jams and you’re stuck in there together for an hour.

[Image: Flickr user Dgrosso23]

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7 Comments

  • Jack Ricchiuto

    These are just fabulous! Totally in the spirit of what I discovered doing a book on serendipity in 2002. Also to consider: ask people you know questions you have never asked them, and don't pass up an opportunity to give a stranger a compliment.

  • Juls

    This list is catered to extroverts, though introverts can benefit by more social interaction. 

  • Jim Jenkins

    I am surprised there was no mention of taking a personal time-out to simply sit quietly and let your mind randomly think. Sensemaking (Weick et al) takes time, carving out time will provide opportunity for the creation of frameworks to enable creativity.
     

  • PiaBertoneGross

    I was also waiting for a mention of this while reading - As my mom used to say, "boredom breeds creativity".

  • Nat

     I said the same thing today. FC seems obsessed with output measured by QUANTITY.