Binti Singh

Cities are eco systems of different people who are capable of becoming what they can become in a highly networked world. Cities are not just about infrastructure and amenities; safety and security.

I had the privilege to discuss Prof Christian Busch’s best-selling book The Serendipity Mindset the Art and Science of Creating Good Luck in a webinar organised by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, titled The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck, in Cities and Beyond on September 8, 2021. I first read about this book in social media in the middle of 2020 and it has been discussed many times since then.

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Prof Busch who teaches both at New York University and London School of Economics has raised to prominence with many key ideas around innovation and leadership in management schools. The book essentially says that 50% of things that happen in our lives are by chance, unexpected, trigger events. It is our response and effort to these unexpected events that turn them into opportunities, make them meaningful with positive outcomes or smart luck. Serendipity, in a nutshell, is an active process of connecting the dots to create better outcomes and situations. This idea can be applied across domains.

Serendipity in Cities and Beyond

Cities are eco systems of different people who are capable of becoming what they can become in a highly networked world. Cities are not just about infrastructure and amenities; safety and security. They are hubs of innovation, creativity, commerce, culture and community. A good city is one that bridges ties between communities, helps in access, diminishes inequalities and enables people to connect in meaningful ways.

Good city planning and design can help create good spaces that in turn can make serendipity happen. Art spaces, for example trigger people to express themselves and find excuses to talk to other people they don’t know. Chance encounters often play out in parks, cafes, and libraries. Collaboration and co-creation are therefore imminent to meet the surmounting urban challenges like climate risks and inequalities. Bridging network is the handiwork of good city planning and design. 

Four Pillars of the Serendipity Mindset for Pressing Urban Challenges

Uncertainty

Uncertainty is negotiated on an everyday basis in cities especially those located in the Global South. By definition, the exact moment and outcome of any event is not knowable so we prepare (both as individuals or as collectives) by doing the groundwork. This helps in building resilience.

Informality

Most of our urban population live outside the Master Plan, the limits of the formal city in informal living and working conditions. This is epitomised by the slum- a place of enterprise and agency. Innovation clusters, incubation centres simply copied from one context to another ignore the underlying indigenous culture and mindset of the people. That is the reason they fail.

Agency

How do individuals negotiate with social, economic and political structures on an everyday basis to live their lives in cities? Urban populations living in uncertain conditions of Global South cities are constantly using agency to access basic services and opportunities with different societal structures.

Flexibility

Cities need to be flexible in uncertain times. Plan little and leave the rest for human agency. The Master Plan that charts out the destiny of cities for twenty years may have to be reimagined in bits, parts, delved deeply and structured systematically.

In sum education, awareness and training are crucial to nudge people to develop a mindset that addresses urban challenges more effectively!

First Published in BW Smart Cities as The Serendipity Mindset meets the Urban on October 11, 2021.

About the Author

Binti Singh

Dr Binti Singh, Associate Professor, Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA), Mumbai

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