As we learn in school, a great number of inventions and innovative thought were mistakenly stumbled upon, if not results of actual error. Some were discovered when messing about with something completely unrelated; others weren't even really looking for anything in the first place.
The definition of "serendipity" is "luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for." (That flies in the face of that romantic film that translated it as something more akin to fate.) Pagan Kennedy's "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity" explains that serendipity is not something that happens, but rather something that can be achieved.
In 1754, a belle-lettrist named Horace Walpole retreated to a desk in his gaudy castle in Twickenham, in southwest London, and penned a letter. Walpole had been entranced by a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who possess superpowers of observation. In his letter, Walpole suggested that this old tale contained a crucial idea about human genius: “As their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” And he proposed a new word — “serendipity” — to describe this princely talent for detective work. At its birth, serendipity meant a skill rather than a random stroke of good fortune.
Dr. Erdelez agrees with that definition. She sees serendipity as something people do.
I'm a firm believer in "Seek, and ye shall find." The saying doesn't go, "Seek, and ye shall find what ye was seeking." Ye shall find—something.
Being open-minded is, of course, a necessary prerequisite. Sometimes I get stubborn, focusing on only one desirable outcome, and because of that I don't get very far. It's when I'm consciously amenable that I delightfully uncover a new outlook, new method, or a new thingamajig.
Some she called “non-encounterers”; they saw through a tight focus, a kind of chink hole, and they tended to stick to their to-do lists when searching for information rather than wandering off into the margins. Other people were “occasional encounterers,” who stumbled into moments of serendipity now and then. Most interesting were the “super-encounterers,” who reported that happy surprises popped up wherever they looked. . .
You become a super-encounterer, according to Dr. Erdelez, in part because you believe that you are one — it helps to assume that you possess special powers of perception, like an invisible set of antennas, that will lead you to clues.
Doctors and scientists often find the cure or come upon an epiphany while actively researching something completely unrelated. If one is going with the focus, "I am analyzing A for the strict reason of discovering a connection to B," one is cutting out the rest of the alphabet. There is so much out there to know.
If I flatter myself, I am, at most, an "occasional encounter." What fun I could have if I was a "super-encounterer"!