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The Serendipity Mindset: The Art & Science of Creating Good Luck, in Cities and Beyond

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IMPRI Team

Discussing the book on the serendipity mindset and the importance of planning, educating, and training people to meet each other and finding things in common, the #IMPRI Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a discussion by Prof Christian Busch on The Serendipity Mindset: The Art & Science of Creating Good Luck, in Cities and Beyond as part of the series The State of Cities – #CityConversations.

The Serendipity Mindset: The Art & Science of Creating Good Luck, in Cities and Beyond

Essence of the Book

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Dr. Simi Mehta, CEO (Honorary) & Editorial Director at IMPRI, invited Prof Christian Buschto, Professor, New York University; Author, The Serendipity Mindset to kickstart the discussion. Prof Christian started with a personal anecdote and moved on to speak about finding meaning in various circumstances. The question is whether we can create a mindset to make the best out of the unexpected and develop a culture in our organizations and families that enables us to practice this.

Cities as ecosystems can help their people thrive and allow for meaningful relationships based on mutual interests. Well-planned cities can provide a space for people to satisfy their basic and higher needs which support the society as a whole through innovation. However, this concept fails in reality as the importance of culture and connecting people is missed. Thus, innovative people are needed to approach the major challenges with a serendipity mindset.

Serendipity can be defined as unexpected good luck resulting from unplanned moments in which proactive decisions lead to positive outcomes and it is about making the unexpected meaningful. However, we may miss serendipity by missing the trigger at the moment or missing out on connecting the dots. A social experiment on lucky vs unlucky people, as mentioned by people themselves, showed how people miss connecting the dots based on their situation.

Cultivating Serendipity

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To cultivate serendipity, we need to ask several questions differently so that one can realize how others can think and determine common interests. Next, it is important to view mistakes differently and reframe situations. Leveraging technology and space design can aid in people meeting other people from diverse backgrounds. Prof Christian concluded by talking about both focusing on local communities while also bridging different communities through social mobility.

Serendipity in Cities

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Mr. Sameer Unhale, Joint Commissioner, Directorate of Municipal Administration, Government of Maharashtra, congratulated Prof Christian on his book and said that the book gave him hope. The age of exploration, entrepreneurship, and innovation is crucial and cities are essentially both a brush and a canvas when viewed with this mindset. Projections of human traits are seen in cities that are now increasingly interconnected. Mr. Unhale said that the fundamental idea and framework brought out by the book can be of immense help to make the cities livable.

The Role of Planning

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Dr. Binti Singh, Associate Professor, Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA), Mumbai, recalled the theory of structuration, where there is a tussle between agencies and social structures and everything comes down to negotiation. Dr. Singh highlighted agency, flexibility, uncertainty, and informality with respect to urbanism in the South. Most of the population in the South resides outside what are considered as cities, in “slums” which are sights are an agency, enterprise, and constant negotiation. Southern urbanism is also characterized by uncertainty as every single day is a struggle as opposed to the North. Lastly, flexibility should be aimed for.

Further, Prof Christian Busch spoke about underlying power dynamics and how it is important to get to the root cause. In the past, planning was supposed to be rigorous to be good but it’s now more important to understand the issue and create resilient solutions. When posed with a question on spirituality in serendipity, Prof Christian spoke about people’s relation to energy that he finds interesting. He also mentioned trying to figure out key interests and eventually finding one’s focus to maximize serendipity.

Dr. Binti Singh asked Prof Christian Busch about how nudges and serendipity can come together to solve urban problems. While building nudges into systems and incentivizing people to do things in a certain way, it’s easy to miss out that people may not always have things in common. Thus, educating and training people to develop a mindset to find common interests can be crucial. The discussion was concluded with a few more questions and answers.

Acknowledgment: Ritheka Sundar is a Research Intern at IMPRI

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