05 Jan 2019


The 21st century business dynamics

Business in the 21st century is becoming unpredictable across all sectors. Traditionally lucrative industries are now getting fragmented by the day transforming into red oceans rendering competitive advantage a pipeline dream to most companies. These aggressive dynamics can be attributed predominantly to three primary forces:

  1. Change: Thanks to technology the pace at which the world is moving today is highly rapid and accelerated. Sweeping changes across global macro environments have redrawn business horizons extending boundaries and structures beyond the elastic resource capacity of most organizations.
  2. Complexities: The variables operating in business environments across the world have not only multiplied triggering adverse interrelationships but morphed into unpredictable forces causing volatile discontinuity; customers are becoming sophisticated by the minute and competitors are no longer interested in coexisting with strategic groups but aim to disrupt and break industry structures and boundaries.
  3. Competition:Competition is now global! The world has shrunk into one giant ball of nationalized economies fully integrated into functioning as a singular unit; a sneeze in one part can result in a full hiccup in another section. Economies now are integrated with traditional markets reserved for indigenous players being liberalized thus opening up ground rules altering the fortunes of many companies. Organizations are struggling en masse to restructure with a hope of discovering some form of sustainability all in vain. There is an associated generation of new business opportunity as a favorable impact of globalization but along it dragged cut-throat competition from highly capable industry-leading players.

The impetus for adopting a new perspective in strategic decision making has never been this important. The call for the discovery of hidden serendipity strategy could be the difference between an organization’s marketplace survival or its obsolescence.

The concept strategic serendipity

The term serendipity means an accidental happening, fortunate discovery or a pleasant surprise that occurred unexpectedly causing a favorable outcome. Serendipity is the discovery of something valuable or delightful when least expected. In the context of a business, it means unexpected advantageous benefits arising from a synergistic relationship.

Serendipity can also emerge in multiple ways: Invaluable business information; new business model causing process advantages; product or service innovation leading to perfect business-industry fit; new business partner or investor possessing greater capabilities; a strategic insight triggered by observing others etc.

Conditions for successful serendipity strategy

Strategic serendipity demands the ability to recognize, successfully leverage and create value from unexpected sources. The following conditions are necessary for its manifestation:

  • Observation and Curiosity: Serendipity is usually unexpected hence can go unnoticed. Leaders must be keen to identify any form of emerging leveraging points an organization can tap in to build nonexistent capabilities.
  • Intentionality and Experience: Serendipity requires some form of deliberate or non-deliberate effort for it to be fully activated coupled with a willingness to take a chance or risk. Organization Leaders must also have the ability to assess existing market realities and be wise enough to know what is possible and not possible measuring their internal capabilities.
  • Innovation: Serendipity occurs by chance. Knowledge, creativity, and experience are necessary to transform the set of unexpected conditions into desirable outcomes. It is a manifestation of creativity triggered by observing something in the environment.

Types of serendipity:

A serendipity outcome occurs in three ways:

  • Discovery that was not sought
  • Discovery that was being sought, but found in an unexpected way
  • Discovery, whose use is different than originally planned

How to enhance the chance of organizational serendipity

  • Leveraging diversity in organizational culture: Organizations can stimulate serendipity moments by finding ways of encouraging continuous interaction between dissimilar individuals. Dispersion of knowledge among a diverse group in a formal setting usually leads to the discovery of something new and useful through a chance encounter.
  • Building social capital culture fostering trust and willingness of information sharing within the organization: If an organization encourages openness of sharing ideas and withholding blame, the likelihood is that favorable strategic moments will occur. If contrary, chances of gaining serendipitous value diminish.
  • Fostering opportunities for cross-discipline exchanges: Organizational culture needs to tolerate a degree of autonomy for creativity, critical, innovative and design thinking. It should encourage and create room for experiments. This freedom may, in turn, generate ideas and further unexpected opportunities to build competitive advantages.
  • Hiring people or developing people with a serendipitous disposition.Organizations can build into its system the culture of a deliberate search for unexpected value in information and when identified activate quick leveraging and implementation with the full support of the management. This habit can legitimize the drive for creativity in unearthing unexpected value.

How does serendipity occur?

Many frameworks can be used but I will explain serendipity occurrence using a simple model of strategy formulation.


A strategy is a conscious intended plan of action designed to produce specific results against conditions of uncertainty. The term itself is futuristic and carries some level of uncertainty. when being deployed some elements might go according to original design while others might not. Any part of a strategy that is nonperforming is usually discarded as unrealized strategy and replaced with a revised version called emergent strategy to stabilize adverse conditions. This interplay between discarding and reintroduction of strategy is what triggers the emergence of serendipity moments. Something unexpected can arise ending up being the final realized strategy.

Most organizations fail to discover their moment of serendipity because they maintain rigidity in pursuing the original strategy (Intended) even when it shows clear signs of not performing. Effective leaders must continuously maintain: Curiosity, open-mindedness, openness, optimism, creativity, preparedness, and alertness to fully leverage on the power of serendipity strategy.

Examples of successful serendipity discoveries in history

Viagra – Pfizer, Vaseline – Robert Chesebrough, Pasteur and the discovery of the vaccine against cholera – Louis Pasteur , The Microwave – Percy L. Spencer, Super Glue – Harry Coover, X-Rays – Wilhelm Roentgen, Teflon – Roy Plunkett, Pacemaker – Wilson Greatbatch, Quinine, Radio Activity, Penicillin – Sir Alexander Fleming, Insulin – Oscar Minkowski and Josef von Mering, Corn Flakes – John Kellogg, Safety glass used in windshields – Edouard Benedictus.

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