You've developed an impeccable career plan and are following it to the "T". You have goals and strategies to get to each goal and you're determined that nothing will set you offcourse.

But.... somehow, you're not making enough progress. Why? What's missing?

Perhaps you should try inserting a bit of happenstance into your career plan. Happenstance, or when an event happens by chance, is a relatively new career development theory. In this case, happenstance is intentionally inserted into the context of a focused career plan. Consciously inserting happenstance into your career plan allows you to explore new and unplanned events and opportunities. This is important in these uncertain economic days. One needs to be open-minded and nimble and to cast a wide net to take full advantage of the opportunities and the learning that can come from happenstance. Interesting things can happen when you allow yourself to explore unplanned events.

There are lots of entertaining stories of career happenstance that have led to some fascinating career results. You may have heard the story of Arthur Fry, the inventor of the Post-it Note. 

Mr. Fry, an engineer at 3M in the 1970s, attended a presentation by a fellow engineer Sheldon Silver, who had invented and was demonstrating temporary glue that seemed an inferior product. After all, what good’s glue that doesn’t stick? Mr. Silver sought advice from his peers for practical applications of this temporary glue. As the story goes, Mr. Fry “patiently listened” to the presentation but saw no useful application for the glue. Mr. Fry had his “Ah Ha” moment in a subsequent rehearsal for his church choir while trying to invent a reusable bookmark for his songlist. If Mr. Fry had not decided to attend and to remain at Mr. Silver’s presentation, he would not have become aware of this innovative glue substance. He inserted happenstance into his career by choosing to attend the presentation and the rest, as they say, is history.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Jonah Lehrer entitled How to Be Creative gives another shout out to this idea of happenstance. Mr. Lehrer says that intentionally allowing yourself to derail and letting events happen can promote creativity. Specifically, Mr. Lehrer describes the creative benefits of loosening your focus or allowing yourself to not pay attention. Apparently, while we are relaxed and not intensely concentrating is when we are most likely to have our most creative thoughts. “Although we live in a world that worships focus, we are always forcing ourselves to concentrate…this approach can inhibit the imagination.” He says that relaxation or stepping away from a problem helps to be creative. Hmmm…makes sense. How many times have people told you they get their best ideas in the shower? Lehrer goes on to describe Steve Jobs’ assertion that the “best inventors seek out diverse experiences, collecting lots of dots that they later link together.” Inserting happenstance certainly worked for Steve Jobs’ career.

John Krumboltz , PhD, a prominent Stanford University professor encourages actively including happenstance in your career plan in his book, Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career. Mr. Krumboltz says that happenstance encourages people to take chances and be open to new circumstances. Inserting happenstance into your career has lots of potential benefits including the chance to:

  • test out new things (which is really fun),
  • test out your established values,
  • do things differently,
  • leave your comfort zone to acquire new skills and knowledge and
  • make new connections and increase your sphere of influence.

So, what do you think? Try inserting a bit of happenstance into your career. Attend that presentation or museum opening. Sign up for a class. Volunteer. Accept that impromptu invitation or say hello to a stranger. You never know where happenstance might take you and your career.



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