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Monday, 25 March 2013 11:36

How to Have Serendipitous Success

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A question that I'm quite obsessed with asking successful entrepreneurs these days is:

"Has your success been more about Serendipity or Strategy?"

The responses have been fascinating.

I'd estimate that ninety percent of the people I've asked have said that Serendipity was a bigger part of their initial success than Strategy.

The definition of Serendipity – The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: "a fortunate stroke of serendipity". Often referred to as a 'happy accident'.

Now, this result could be skewed by the type of people I find around me. But I suspect it represents the experience of many successful people. I'm not saying Strategy never plays a part, although normally when I hear people answer this they say Serendipity came first and Strategy often followed.

OK. So, if Serendipity seems to play a part in success, is success more about " chance" or " luck" than anything else, or are some people more prone to these serendipitous experiences?

I've been pondering this a lot of late. And my suspicion is that while chance plays a part and some people seem to get lucky, there are probably things you could do to put yourself into Serendipity's path!

A few that come to mind:

Experiment. Many of the people I meet who have success are prolific experimenters. They're always trying new things, pushing boundaries, and asking "what if" questions. If you're always trying new things, you're more likely to try something that clicks.

Step out of the comfort zone. I'm not a big fan of this one myself, as I love my comfort zone, but I know the power of stepping outside of it on a personal level. Many of my own personal successes started with something or someone agitating me to get out of my comfort zone and to do something that was a little "left field" for me.

Know what you want. Dream. Many of the people who I speak with who have these serendipitous moments happen to them are people who, at least on some level, have identified the things they want to happen in their lives. They may not have planned everything out. But they often have some general views on what they want to do and have a strong grasp of what their values are, so when opportunities happen to them, they see them as "dream come true" moments that they leap at—rather than let slip by. 

I wonder: How many people don't have "dream come true" moments, because they don't really have any dreams?

*Tell others your dreams.* This one is key. Having a dream is fantastic, but telling other people exponentially increases the chances of it coming to be.

If you know your dream, you'll be on the look out for opportunity for it to happen. But if another person knows your dream, they'll notice opportunities for you, too. Tell ten people and you've suddenly got a mini army of supporters who could help you!

Many of the serendipitous moments that I've had over the years have happened because someone saw something in their day-to-day life, and saw it as something I might like to know about—because they'd heard me talk about that thing.

Do things that matter to you. Another trend I've noticed in talking to people is that the things that become successful to people are often things that they started because they had a problem and wanted to solve it.

Solve your own problems and you might just stumble upon a solution that others are likely to want, too.

The other part of this: When you're doing something that matters to you, I have observed you tend to draw others into it more easily than when you're doing something for more "strategic" reasons.

There's something about people who are doing things that are important to them that is infectious. This relates to ...

Be Passionate about what you do. The common advice we hear when it comes to careers or success is: “Find what you're passionate about, and do that.”

The problem with this is that most of us not really passionate about too many things that lend themselves to a career/business. There are certainly cases of people who do fit this approach, but my guess is that most peoples’ passions don't really translate to a business or job.

What I notice about many successful people is that they bring passion to what they do—rather than letting passion determine what they do.

I'm still thinking this one through, as in some ways it doesn't completely sit with #5 (above) and I can think of exceptions to the rule. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Be happy. Another common thing I hear people speak of is their quest for finding happiness through what they do. 

"If I just land this job ... I'll be happy!" 

"If I could just be successful ...  I'll be happy!" 

 "If I just find a partner ... I'll be happy!"

The reality is probably the other way around, in my experience. I've had a hunch, over the years, that I have the most success (in my business and personal life) when I'm happy.

I recently stumbled upon The Happiness Advantage, a book by Shawn Achor. The author put into words for me what I'd been feeling for years. Here's just a snippet of what it is about:

"Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn’t just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe."

Source: Darren Rowse, editor, author, and speaker: Founder of ProBlogger and Digital Photography School Digital Photography School - Melbourne, Australia 

Even in the age of new media, your communications plan requires forethought and diligent execution to succeed. Follow this guide.

 I want to start blogging.

We must have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

I want to advertise on Google, on the radio, in newspapers, in direct mail.

Let's hold an event.

As a communications and marketing consultant, I hear requests like these every week from my clients. When I ask why, they seem confused. They wonder whether I really understand new media and communications. In this age of instant information they ask why they should bother to take the time to set communication goals and write annual plans.

1. Set goals that set the strategy. Goals are the overall thing you want to change or affect, not the activity itself. They must tie in to the overall company strategy and the specific objectives of your organization. Make them clear, concise, and concrete.

Not: "Increase participation of the employee annual survey," but, "Increase the annual employee survey participation by fifty percent and create and execute action plans by all organizations to address any issues that rank at two or below by May 30, with the overall goal of reducing turnover by seven percent in 2014."

Goals have to be shared, refined, and communicated, to all interested parties. 

2. Be proactive, not reactive. Sure, from time to time you'll want to second good ideas or topics by re-tweeting or "liking" them. But to stand out from the noise, you'll want to be the one with the original ideas and stories. "Leading from behind" could be a great concept for management, but not for communications. A proactive approach is necessary.

Do the research, find captivating stories, understand the data, create compelling and targeted messages, and then successfully execute the plan. Announcing an event date is fine, but explaining what you'll learn and why it's a "must attend" for your audience is considerably better. Having a plan in place for crisis communications could save your reputation and your bottom line.

3. Choose metrics that matter. The number of tweets or re-tweets or dissecting Google Analytics is not a measurement in itself (although it could be useful to see activity and monitor trends). What's important is to have your marketing or social media efforts move the needle in relation to your overall goals. Increasing the number of followers is nice, but selling more products or services, growing membership, or increasing donations for your nonprofit shows tangible results. Think conversions, not conversation.

4. Turn ideas into action. A six-slide PowerPoint deck is not a communications plan. A detailed plan addresses every aspect of the communications strategy to discover opportunities as well as barriers. An implementation plan explores audience needs and interests, understands the competitive landscape, creates targeted messaging, establishes timelines, determines communication vehicles and activities, works within financial guidelines, establishes benchmarks and metrics, and outlines the staffing plan with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

As Mark Twain said: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, then starting on the first one."

5. Don't file and forget. An effective communications plan is reviewed and refined weekly. Use it to start every weekly department meeting. Have only one version, and make it accessible—by way of a shared drive or in the cloud—to everyone responsible for implementation. As new events, products, or services occur, add to the plan and determine new approaches and strategies. Measure what works and what doesn't, and next year's plan will be half written already. Planning now means you'll be in a much better position to be part of the news instead of part of the noise.

Written by: Mimi Garrity Denman manages Denman Communications. A version of this article first appeared on Denman Communications. Adapted from:


I was asked to be on an executive panel for service and support professionals for an annual event. One of the more animated discussions focused on ways to best integrate young service staff into the workforce. Bright young workers have a lot to offer—fresh perspectives, a finger on the pulse of today’s young consumers, and total comfort using technologies that sometimes rattle those of us who haven’t been using them since preschool.

Along with the positives, there are some challenges service managers need to manage, to fully engage their younger service team members.

I was happy to see that most of the leaders in the room were eager to compare notes and take a positive approach to mentoring their newer staff. It isn’t always easy. With multiple generations working side-by-side, internal customer service needs to be taken just as seriously as external customer service.

A few months ago, I listened as an irate employee in her fifties gave me a laundry list of complaints about a young employee who worked beside her. According to the fifty-something, her younger associate suffered from the following behavior:

  • She disrespected authority.
  • She questioned our policies and procedures.
  • She took credit for things that the older woman had helped her to do.
  • She wasn’t great at calming down angry customers.

 Of course, nobody wants to be disrespected, but I asked her if she’d play with me a bit. I asked her to find a positive quality in each of her negative judgments. For example:

  • “Disrespecting authority” could be seen as “preferring to be self-governing.”
  • “Questioning policies” could be seen as “being curious to learn.”
  • “Taking credit” could be seen as “wanting to be seen as accomplished.”
  • “Not great at calming angry customers” could be seen as “needing feedback to improve.”

These interpretations are not an excuse for unacceptable conduct. Instead, it helps you drop negative judgments and puts you in a more resourceful place to mentor employees. Imagine being mentored by someone who had a negative laundry list about you. Would that person become your mentor or your tormentor? Leaders who see the best in their staff, while holding clear and enforced expectations for service excellence, have the most success.

Written By:  Marilyn Suttle. To access additional free customer service resourcesincluding blog articles and video tipsvisit Marilyn Suttle is the co-author of Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. Marilyn travels internationally to deliver service excellence keynotes and workshops. Marilyn inspires her clients to excel by creating strong, productive relationships in every area of life.  She specializes in creating “Suttle Shifts” in the way people think and act to produce massive results. When you need a keynote speaker or success coach, Marilyn may be reached at (248) 348-1023 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or through 2012 Copyright Marilyn Suttle

As part of an experiment, I got out a pad of paper and pen, and walked through each room of my house, finding things to add to my Irritation List. Anything that bugged me got put on the list. The chipped paint in my dining room, the small rip in the lining of my lamp shade, the disorganized storage area in the basement—no matter how big or small, I wrote it down.

At first, my irritation list was long and … irritating. Prioritizing and delegation changed all that. After a family meeting, the who, what, and by-when’s were added to the list. (I admit this idea got a cold reception at first, but my husband and son got on board, adding some of their own irritations to the list and negotiating responsibilities.)

One by one, over the next six months, the house shaped up. As the list grew smaller, my energy and enthusiasm skyrocketed.

Consider what might happen if you were to create a customer irritation list at your place of business. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of your business and lose sight of the irritations that ultimately undermine your success.

Do you know what’s at the top of your customers’ irritation lists? Over time, those irritations may be the deciding factor that pushes customers toward your competitor.

Points to help you break through irritations:

  • Be eager to learn what’s on your customers’ irritation lists. (Don’t forget the people inside your company, aka your internal customers. Their irritations ultimately spill over onto your paying customers.)
  • Notice your role in creating the problem or allowing it to continue.
  • For each irritation, brainstorm several ways to handle it and pick the best one.
  • Divvy up or delegate.

Enjoy the results!

What do you think? What workplace irritations are you committed to eliminating?

Written by: Marilyn Suttle is the coauthor of Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. Marilyn travels internationally to deliver service excellence keynotes and workshops. Marilyn inspires her clients to excel by creating strong, productive relationships in every area of life. She specializes in creating “Suttle Shifts” in the way people think and act, to produce massive results. When you need a keynote speaker or success coach, Marilyn could be reached at  (248) 348-1023, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or through

To access additional free customer service resourcesincluding blog articles and video tipsvisit

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