14 Nov 2012 06:10pm

The science of serendipity

As part of our coverage of Global Entrepreneurship Week, economia editor Richard Cree reviews a book looking that outlines how to implement innovation within large organisations

There are few things more essential to business success than innovation. And yet, despite it being so central to business life, many organizations – and particularly large ones – often fail to get it right. Failure to identify potential opportunities and worse, investment in hopeless new products and services that will never succeed, has been the undoing of previously successful businesses for generations. And the stakes are higher than ever.

But how can you reduce the risks inherent with innovation? More importantly, how can you maximize your chances of success?

One person with convincing answers to these questions is Matt Kingdon, co-founder of innovation consultancy What-If? And in this engaging, entertaining, inspirational and well-structured book he explains what innovation looks like and suggests ways that companies of all sizes and across all sectors can get better at it. Don’t be fooled by the deliberately provocative title. While he does think that successful innovation is all about serendipity, he’s not really talking about the idea of “happy accidents” most commonly associated with that word.

Rather he sees serendipity as the “connective raw material” for successful innovation.

As he says, “This definition of serendipity assumes a happy and profitable outcome that may be unanticipated but has not been found purely by chance. What looks like luck is in reality hard-earned.”

Assuming he is right, this is good news. It means anyone should be able to set their company up to succeed at innovation. And even better Kingdon uses the book to spell out the steps this success demands, in a series of practical chapters. Throughout Kingdon makes good use of mini case studies and clear, practical examples drawn both from his own experience and elsewhere.

One of Kingdon’s key messages is that to make ideas meaningful you have to make them real. Luckily he practices what he preaches in this book, by doing his best to immerse the reader in his approach to innovation. Whether that’s the practical, how-to guides, or the 30-second summaries at the start of each chapter, the book is packed with useful nuggets to take away.

There’s even a section on how to overcome organisational obstacles to thinking differently and trying new things.


The Science of SerendipityThe Science of Serendipity: How to unlock the promise of innovation in large organizations
Matt Kingdon, Wiley, £14.99


Richard Cree