Pagan Kennedy on the art and science of serendipity

It's important in this age of big data to return the original meaning of serendipity and talk about it as a skill.

By Mac Slocum
November 21, 2016

“I think it’s really helpful to go back to the original definition of the word, which arose in a very whimsical serendipitous way back in the 1700s. There was this English eccentric named Horace Walpole who was fascinated with this fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip.” In this fairy tale, the three princes are Sherlock Holmes-like detectives who have these amazing skills, forensic skills. They can see clues that nobody else can see. Walpole was thinking about this and very delighted with this idea, so he came up with this word “serendipity.” In that original definition, Walpole really was talking about a skill, the ability to find what we’re not looking for, especially really useful clues that lead to discoveries. In the intervening couple hundred years, the word has almost migrated to the opposite meaning, where we just talk about dumb luck, or you say serendipity and you think of a rom-com movie. …I’m not against that meaning, but I think it’s really useful to go back, especially in the age of big data, to go back to that original meaning and talk again about this skill.” —Pagan Kennedy


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