Ruth McCambridge, the editor of the excellent Nonprofit Quarterly, ask us to ponder: With all our policies, procedures, plans, strategies, best practices, theories of change, and expert evaluations, what are we missing?
The answer is: serendipity.
Sometimes we make great discoveries when we are not looking for them, or when we’re looking for something else. Being in the right place at the right time is a kind of talent. Noticing what’s in front of you is another. Put the “accident” of time and circumstance together with the “sagacity” to see something new and you have serendipity (and I hope you do)!
But is it possible to plan for serendipity? How can we make happy accidents more likely to happen?
McCambridge thinks it is possible, and necessary, to create the right environment for serendipity. That environment is more like a social network than like an assembly line, and it takes less standardization and more collaboration. She quotes a Harvard Business Review Harvard Business Review article by Daniel Rasmus:
Leaders…need to acquire the patience to monitor serendipitous activity, and the courage to protect technologies and ideas that may take time to mature, or changes in circumstance to reveal their true value—and the willingness to empower people to embrace, explore and follow serendipitous activity wherever it may lead.
Amen! And I will add: nonprofit funders need to find the patience and courage to sponsor organizations where experiment is prized, learning is encouraged, and discoveries are likely to be made.