Are you a Serendipity or a Zemblanity person?


“Zemblanity, the opposite of serendipity, 
the faculty of making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design.
~ William Safire, The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time

One could call this an Unpleasant Non-Surprise.

Thanks to my friend Bruce Peters of Beyond Teal for sending through this article from TED, “20 words that aren’t in the dictionary yet“, with the note: “For when you run out of words or language to write about. Or, you could just make up your own… in your spare moments.” One of the words in the list was Zemblanity.

I started writing this on a Saturday morning, having already written three posts on a beautifully productive day. Serendipitously (of course!), the last article I wrote before receiving this note from Bruce, published yesterday as you read this, was: “Risk taking, trust, serendipity“, providing a segue to this post today.

In that post yesterday, I mused on the idea of having only enough “Structure to allow Flow”, noting:  “Serendipity is a word that some may call luck or coincidence. Perhaps, but I don’t believe in luck, I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe in serendipity. Perhaps it is a combination of clarity of purpose and creating the environment (both in structure and in belief and energy) to both allow serendipities to emerge and for you to see them in front of you and choose to make them part of your journey.”

So, if we have the choice to create sufficient structure to allow flow, to be ready for serendipitous events, opportunities, meetings, to identify them, allow them to be part of your flow, your choices.

If we do that we are bound to sense serendipity around us regularly, to which a next level I often experience is in such areas as synthesising ideas from different fields, connecting people across countries from similar and very different backgrounds, fields, areas of work, life and passion.

Serendipity is simply cool, fun, energising, enlivening!

Now to this new word Zemblanity.

To know one feeling, thought, idea one can often better understand it by recognition and understanding of the opposite.

We all have our dark side as well as our light (whether or not we own it!), we know about yin and yang, up and down, left and right.

So to Serendipity we now have the term Zemblanity.

“the faculty of making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design.”

First, as with our dark and light, let us recognise that we all have areas where we have that faculty to design, to structure our life and experience such that we have unhappy, unlucky expected discoveries by design.

I am reminded of a meeting in a pub in Ireland last year at a festival. I had just met someone who was widely travelled. We then met up with a couple attending the conference and the four of us decided to go to dinner as it was that time of day and felt like fun to chat through the experiences of the day. During the dinner, one of the couple started to talk about their recent trip to Rome and was very negative about all of the food they ate in the restaurants, even going to far as to say they were pretty sure it had been reheated in microwave ovens. I recall that moment, with my sense being that they had expected that to be the case and this confirmed their expectation. They’d had a terrible time in Rome, clearly. My well-travelled new acquaintance caught my eye, paused, and simply said “I’ve been to Rome many times. I’m sorry to hear that, and that has simply not been my experience”.

So, to the title of this post, “Are you a Serendipity or a Zemblanity person?”.

I believe life is very rarely binary, so the title is simply to provoke thought and awareness.

For me, I’ve found my discovery of the term Zemblanity (thanks again, Bruce!) to bring awareness to me of where in my life and my leadership I bring forward the faculty to make “unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries”, and where I design and structure my life and presence to have the opposite, “happy, fortuitous, unexpected discoveries” over and over again.

Go forth and be Serendipitous!