“In the field of observation chance only favors the prepared mind.” Louis Pasteur
Tacit knowledge has been defined as non-codified, intangible know-how that is acquired through the informal adoption of learned behavior and procedures. Polanyi describes tacit knowing as involving two kinds of awareness: the focal and subsidiary. While individuals may be focused on a particular object or process, they also possess a subsidiary awareness that is subliminal and marginal. Tacit knowing also involves subsception, that is, learning without awareness and this is associated with serendipity.
Serendipity is defined as a random coincidence or accident that triggers an idea or concept when the individual is not actively seeking an idea i.e. without awareness of a problem or need. While a discovery that involves focused awareness is usually termed synchronicity since the individual is actively seeking an idea or a solution to a problem.
Serendipity has resulted in a number of accidental discoveries producing innovations that have contributed to significant value for society. For example, penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming when he observed an anomaly on a bacterial culture. Another example of an accidental discovery was Scotchgard by Patsy Sherman when she accidentally spilled a polymer on her tennis shoes. The table below shows a number of innovations resulting from serendipity or synchronicity:
Although accidental discoveries and observations in nature lead to new innovations, the person making the discovery or observation needs to have a mindset that is conducive to identifying the opportunities. Sir Alexander Fleming could have thrown out the bacterial cultures when he found an anomaly, but instead continued to investigate the cultures to determine the cause of the abnormality, as a result of his curious and open mind.
The prepared mind, as stated by Louis Pasteur, is characterized by specific patterns of brain activity that place a person in the right “frame of mind” through the establishment of new pathways or networks of thought. The prepared mind has the ability to sense, understand, decide and act upon observations and opportunities that suddenly appear by chance.
Welter and Egmon in their book “The Prepared Mind of a Leader“ describe eight mental skills that can further develop and prepare your mind to identify opportunities, solve problems and enhance decision-making:
- Observing – Look for non-conforming information generated by the constantly changing environment, that can provide new ideas and opportunities.
- Reasoning – You need to be able to answer “Why?” when you are proposing a course of action.
- Imagining – The ability to visualize new ideas and linkages.
- Challenging – Challenge your assumptions and test their validity.
- Deciding – You need to make timely decisions or influence others’ decisions.
- Learning – Continuous learning will move you forward.
- Enabling – You need people with the knowledge and ability to progress opportunities.
- Reflecting – Allocate the time to think and reflect to determine whether a particular decision was successful.
How are you preparing your mind to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities?
Dr John Kapeleris