April 10, 2012
The Power of Serendipity

politicalprof writes:

I am agog with the power of serendipity.

Serendipity, the happy accident, has driven much of my research and much of my publication. My first book, on the work of police officers and social workers, emerged entirely because a student of mine was a police officer—a sergeant, in fact—who invited me for a ride-a-long one night. In time, after many rides and much observation, I hit on the notion that on the scene, at the spot of an incident that a police officer was working, it is best to consider the police officer in exactly the same terms that we analyze small group leaders: as people exercising power and discretion to achieve some socially approved end. In fact, I can still place myself in the exact spot I was in when this idea hit me: riding in a police car at 2 am one morning, driving under the overpass of a yet-unfinished interstate. It was a “Eureka” moment.

A later book, on the American militia movement, was informed by the entirely happy accident (at least for me) that I moved to Spokane, WA, to take a temporary position at Eastern Washington University at the exact moment that the Randy Weaver standoff took place in neighboring Idaho. My surprise at the sympathy with which Randy Weaver was treated in the local media led me to ask that most important of political questions: why do people like something I find abhorrent? Answering that question took several years and a survey of the militia movement from Ruby Ridge to Homeland Security … but I got to an answer that, at least, satisfied me.

Of course, as Ben Hogan once said of golf, it might be a game of luck but the more I practice the luckier I get. It is one thing to be hit by serendipity and another to be ready for it. An open mind, a big reading list, and a curiosity about the world around me has, I think, put me in a position such that when those serendipitous moments come, I am at least partially prepared to be struck by them.

Then comes the hardest part: making the words come out in a way that makes the thoughts in my head correspond with the squiggles on the page. Which takes a whole lot more inspiration and, indeed, a heck of a lot of mental perspiration.

—I blog as Politicalprof. I am Professor of Politics and Government at Illinois State University in Normal, IL.

Share your creativity secrets in the comment section, submit a post on Tumblr, or tweet your thoughts to us with the hashtag#InnovationWeek. We’ll compile your answers into a post later this week. (The longer and smarter you write, the more likely it is that we’ll publish you.)

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    Another good one.
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