Coined by the British aristocrat Horace Walpole in a 1754 letter, [serendipity] long referred to a fortunate accidental discovery. Today serendipity is regarded as close kin to creativity — the mysterious means by which new ideas enter the world. But are hallway collisions really the best way to stoke innovation?
Here at the new PubSmart Conference, seated this week in an unseasonably chilly Charleston, South Carolina, the term “engineering serendipity” came up on a Thursday panel several of us were doing about discoverability.
Discoverability, itself, is not quite a word yet, according to my unabridged Merriam-Webster. But when I checked out this term engineering serendipity, I found that it has been with us for some time.
Not that any of us on the panel felt that engineering serendipity wasn’t useful. Kathy Meis, founder of Bublish (a serendipitous name if ever there was one) is one of the five main movers behind PubSmart. She gave us the term as she moderated our panel, which included NetGalley’s Tarah Theoret; Books I Love app’s Elizabeth Dimarco; the eminent Laura Dawson of Bowker and its SelfPublishedAuthor.com site; and me.
[pullquote]If you don’t find yourself naturally comfortable with workin’ it, you may not be tomorrow’s author material, no matter how pretty your prose. [/pullquote]
I’ll just point out that this conference is doing a great deal to rebalance gender representation on publishing-conference panels. Wednesday, I moderated a panel of five women. Thursday I sat on a panel with four women. More sessions have been all- or mostly women.
And as for serendipity and its engineers, I’ve been looking over my shoulder all week. Surely some wry creature, probably in a Citadel cadet’s dress whites, is there to get off a big wink at me. It’s an odd, if pleasant, thing to find yourself returned to your Deeply Southern hometown by a career that’s moved you as far away as Rome, Copenhagen, Bath, London.
I may still wear my white spring linen jacket to this morning’s conference brunch, damn it, despite the forecasts of only 66 azalea-cooling degrees today.
But this thing of engineering serendipity.