31 August 2015 | Once inputs arrive, the importance of out-of-the-box discipline comes into play. People who are able to look at information from different viewpoints may be able likely to spot an opportunity for a creative outcome which is
- out of the ordinary
- something others have not noticed.
Next, those from different disciplines may have the ability to connect previously discrete pieces of information to solve a problem or to uncover an opportunity. Napier and Vuong (2013) suggest that organisations and individuals who tap serendipity, which is ability to notice, evaluate, and take advantage of unexpected information better or faster than competitors, may build or develop this as an advantage.
But, despite its benefits, serendipity is not serendipitous. The former is a method of making creativity. The latter describes unexpected exploration of an opportunity which seemingly appears out of the blue. For instance, when the exhausted Cannon engineering team, who had been stuck on making easy-and-cheap, disposable copier drums, went out for some beer, a beer can led Canon to the development of aluminum copier drums by analogy [Nonaka, (1991), p.101]. Serendipity – as a method – offers innovation capacity improvement by increasing awareness of the existence of unlooked-for but valuable possibilities (Napier and Vuong, 2013). Therefore, there cannot be such a serendipity-based approach of making creativity that is serendipitous. In reality, although hard to plan, but much of the serendipity-based approach’s outcome is expected, accepting the varying forms and specifics of the emergent outcome.
While it seems that successes of creative performance are most often reported and praised, numerous mistakes and missed opportunities, which may be ignored, are critical for ultimate success. A person able to spot opportunities needs practice in the process and admits how tedious the innovation process may be. Such stories can be learned from champion entrepreneurs in Vietnam who joined a well-known inclusive innovation capacity survey commencing in early 2014 (the i2Metrix, in short) (Vuong et al., 2014b).
Minh Long I is now famous for capacity to bake ceramic and porcelain products at temperature as high as 1,380°C while the best producers in France and Japan can only meet 1,360°C and 1,320°C. Ly Ngoc Minh – founder of Minh Long I – unveils that the success was rooted in an unexpected chance to visit the factory of German kiln manufacturer Reidhammer in 1996. Minh participated the most expensive Abiente Frankfurt Fair, not for selling his products but investigating how world-class ceramic and porcelain were made. He tried to visit Reidhammer but was not allowed to get inside the factory. On the way back to hotel, Minh met a German friend who convinced him to return. After driving hundred miles again, his friend helped Minh eye-witness entire manufacturing process as well as take photos as much as he can. Few years later, Reidhammer installed the hottest kiln in the world in Minh Long I Factory in Binh Duong, Vietnam.
At Vinamit, Nguyen Lam Vien – the inventor of dried jackfruits – learned that frozen jackfruits can produce better fried products by accident. “When the business grew up we had to purchase more fresh jackfruits. To keep the fruits fresh longer we put them in freezer storage. Then we realised that fried jackfruits made from frozen jackfruits tasted much better”, Vien told the i2Metrix researchers. But it was not that easy. Vien and his team had to enter a trial-and-error process in months before knowing how long should the fresh jackfruits be kept in freezer and which level of temperature is the most appropriate.
In addition, Brown (2014) is impressed by the serendipity-based success of Kao Sieu Luc – founder of Vietnamese ABC Bakery – who is making burger buns for all major fast food chains in Vietnam including Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonald. The Chinese-origin Luc was among thousands of Cambodian refugees fleeing to Vietnam to escape the bloody Khmer Rouge in 1979. He knew no Vietnamese word nor how to make bread. Luc started as a flour delivery boy to bakeries and 30 years later people call him the ‘Bread Great Master’. One reason for the title is Luc’s invention of ‘instant’ bread.
Despite not drinking alcohol, Luc imitated fermentation of winemaking in flour-preparation for making bread. Then his fermented flour can be kept in 24 to 36 hours. “Then you bake the flour when you need bread. Its smell and taste are even more delicious”, Luc ensures.
Rare, lucky and probably unrealistic, is the ‘only-one-time serendipitous person’.
Also, to be so fortunate on a first try may in fact dampen resilience to try again after such a windfall. Focusing on spotting opportunity to escape from the other creative disciplines, perhaps, results in a popular mistake in relationship-based and rent-seeking economies, such as Vietnam. That is, increasing the chance of meeting serendipity by trying to enrich information inputs and quickly make decision on any spotted point. That results in a contingent strategy. Even when there are many insightful points, the process that transforms insights and creative ideas into new product, service, and solution still needs a logical connection and a disciplined process of employing methods of creativity. Here, there is a dilemma. People try to collect information as much as possible in order to make well-informed decisions. Meanwhile, if they are lack of methods to digest the information then the more they get the more confused they are. In light of this, the bunch of valuable information is worthless.
There are also serendipitous outcomes but without creativity. For instance, a veteran accountant finds a way to cheat tax collectors and in the process make a lot of money. Although his solution is novel and creates pecuniary value, it is not appropriate. One of the two pivotal characteristics of creativity is not satisfied.
* An excerpt from Vuong & Napier (2014).