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5 Aug 2010

Chance Encounters And The Repackaging Of Synchronicity

The July 24, 2010 Schumpeter column of The Economist discussed the book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things In Motion, by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison. The book’s key point is that “success in business increasingly depends on chance encounters.” This only seems a repackaging of Carl Jung’s 1920’s concept called synchronicity.

Examples of Chance Encounters

For instance, a good colleague once asked me how I came to meet some of my key business contacts. He claimed his best ones came from “out of the blue” encounters at non-business events. They did not come from traditional, planned sales activities taught in every sales course. I admitted that my best contact did come this way.

Researching musicians and actors, one finds that their careers launched after a chance encounter too. Harrison Ford, for instance, was thriving as a “carpenter to the stars” when Lucas chose him, based on a recommendation, to stand-in as Hans Solo. He was simply there to help audition other actors, never really formally auditioning himself.

What do chance encounters, synchronicity and quantum mechanics have in common?

In many ways, the idea of chance encounters’ importance to business can be explained through Jung’s concept of synchronicity.

Explaining Chance Encounters Via Synchronicity

Synchronicity explains such events though by saying they are linked in some way. It’s not that one causes the other. Rather, something links the two. In this sense, it’s like correlation. Except, the main difference is that there is more a connection between the two. Thus, one event says something about the other.

For instance, one day my wife and I entered a restaurant. I happened to see a good high school friend. I hadn’t seen him in twenty years. He was sitting with two other men who owned a company. He introduced us. We chatted. We agreed to talk another time about business. They became one of my best clients ever.

What makes this synchronicity is that one event (a new client) would not have happened without the other (seeing a friend). Yes, it’s frequent for friends to introduce us to strangers. Yet, how often does a friend, one has not seen in twenty years, opens up such a great relationship?

Similarities Between Quantum Mechanics and Synchronicity

Now, granted, it’s easy to see synchronicity as just coincidences. I did not plan on reuniting with a great friend and landing a great client. There can’t be a link. However, synchronicity says there could be, meaning both were meant to happen together while I was there. One could not happen without the others.

While sounding absurd, quantum particles behave this way. When they become “entangled” (linked), effects on one affect the other. This occurs right away regardless of distance. In this sense, my friend and clients entangled with each other and with me. Effects on one affect the others.

So, the question becomes: If entanglement can happen to quantum particles why can’t it happen to humans?

6 Responses

  1. Thanks Mike,
    I loved this article. In a recent online personality assessment, where it weighs analytical, to emotional, organizational and finally intuitiveness …. I was rated highese on intuitive ability. I do believe I have a strong 6th sense vibe when I meet someone in person if the relationship is going to move beyond superficial.

    Interestingly, as a new social media person, primarily on business-oriented LINKED IN, it is more difficult to get the same “vibe” as I would in person.

    However, the incredible “cream of the crop” that I’ve connected with on a more surface level have been incredible opportunities that wouldn’t be possible. How a person takes strong intuition to mere instinct is where I get confused.

    Insightful, thought-provoking perspective. Thank you.

  2. I was reminded while reading this about Donald Trump’s experience when he was nearly bankrupt of going to dinner, and by chance being seated next to a banker who turned out to be the one he renegotiated his business loans with!

  3. Great concept. Back when I mentored new supervisors as a supervisor’s supervisor, I used to reassure them that there were “administrative elves” that would help them out (could have used a better term, I’m sure). I described it as the phenomenon where they would be doing something unrelated to a project they were working on, and “accidentally” stumble upon the facts or legal citation they needed for the project, etc. In a place where everybody was juggling more balls then seemed possible, synchronicity played a huge role in making things manageable. The employees/supervisors would share me their stories of things working out through synchronicity and start to believe in the elves. I don’t think we would have made it without synchronicity.

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