The Serendipity Strategy

November 16, 2011 By Aminda

With all that has been written about what to do and what not to do with an organization’s open innovation strategy, managers might occasionally need a reminder that sometimes it’s OK keep things a little loose.

OI writer and consultant Stefan Lindegaard shares the account of Lego, who recently shut down a gaming project, at the cost of $50 million. What were the big take-away lessons Lindegaard found in the story? One was that sometimes extensive research can be dangerous. Another was that sometimes an organization needs to take chances. Lego identified their key mistake as requiring customers to buy a DVD in order to play the game—based on market research indicating that kids preferred a physical product. In hindsight, a Lego executive admits they should “probably have gone a little wild and just have sent out the game, listen to the users and then develop it further from there.”

Perhaps it would help to view open innovation like one blogger who uses the term “social serendipity” to describe the practice of open innovation. Sometime the best ideas are still the result of serendipity, which is defined as “the ability to make accidental but fortuitous discoveries, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated.” There are two notions behind the word: chance (set of fortuitous conditions) together with a form of gift (or ability) allowing a person to turn the set of conditions into an innovation. The author identifies three types of serendipity:

  • Discovery that was not sought (eg Velcro)
  • Discovery that was being sought, but found in an unexpected way (eg vulcanization)
  • Discovery, whose use is different than originally planned (eg Post-It)


While there is no replacement for hard work, research and planning, that hard work also cultivates instinct. Sometimes a manager just needs to step back, relax and trust it.

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