Many of the products that are a firm fixture in our daily lives owe their existence to chance – and the business acumen of the people who discovered them. René Mauer explains why entrepreneurs should tap the potential of chance, and how to open the door.
The Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi owes at least as much to entrepreneur Yngve Bergqvist as it does to chance. Bergqvist realised the area’s tourist potential for the summer months. However, as he explains, he was met with naysayers when it came to tourism who said it was too bleak, cold and dark in northern Sweden during the winter.
But he stuck to his guns and planned a project with ice sculptures, including an igloo art gallery with art created out of ice and snow.
And this is where chance comes into play: when a group of people wanted to stay in the village despite the cold winter night but no warm cabins were available, Bergqvist promptly offered to let them spend the night in the art gallery igloo. The guests loved it, and the ice hotel was born.
Chance creates potential out of nothing
Yngve Bergqvist accepted chance as a friendly prospect: he identified the potential thrown up by an accidental development. Building an ice hotel was never his goal, but he recognised the idea when it arose and followed it through to its final destination.
The same thing happened to the Post-it. Originally, the focus was on the development of an adhesive that did not stick as firmly as hoped. However, this failed attempt was used by a colleague of the adhesive developer who wanted to mark passages in the music book of his church choir. Normal notes slipped, but with his colleague’s glue this no longer happened – the prototype of the Post-it was born.
Bergqvist could have dismissed his igloo guests’ delight as a one-off. The church choir singer could have kept his glue creation to himself, as his own problem had been solved. But both chose to take a different path – paths trodden by people with an entrepreneurial way of thinking.
How do we tackle chance?
The key question when entrepreneurs and employees are tackling chance is: do they embrace the chance and welcome its effects, or reject it as uncertainty and a deviation from the plan?
Initially, the decisive factor is the mindset of how to deal with the occurrence of chance. However, the more exciting question is what behaviour can be adopted to give chance a helping hand.
It would be tempting if chance were able to come knocking more often, or at least at the right moment. This would allow anyone to come up with the next business idea or innovation.
However, a key characteristic of chance is that it occurs unexpectedly, and can only be deliberately conjured up to a very limited extent. One thing is clear: there is no way to force a happy accident. However, entrepreneurial individuals can open the door to chance – in fact literally so, as only people who go out on a limb and open themselves up to contact and discussion will enable chance.
Effectuation opens the door to chance
Radical innovation does not occur in a standardised idea funnel – because there are no empirical values for radical innovations. Something radically new cannot be evaluated using known parameters and guided through the process. Instead, organised chaos must be created as the foundation.
Entrepreneurship research’s empirically-based effectuation method gives substance to this approach: rather than the expense of sending selected team members off to develop ideas as part of defined procedures, instead a rough framework, mission or challenge simply needs to be laid down with a group of intrinsically motivated volunteers devoting their time to it.
Because effectuation has two major core beliefs:
- Firstly, all the information relevant to innovations can be found in people – the only thing that is unclear is what innovations are in whom, and how they can be linked up.
- Secondly, forecasts and planning do not work in moments of great uncertainty. This means that there must be as much creative scope as possible at the beginning of an innovation process. Structuring tools can then be gradually added as more knowledge is gained about the project and its potential.
If Bergqvist had established a business plan or used design thinking right at the outset, he most likely would never have ended up with his ice hotel. Instead, he accepted the occurrence of chance and coolly drew the best from it. It is therefore well worth making chance the flavour of the week more often.
This article was originally published in German by Capital.
License and Republishing
The Choice - Republishing rules
We publish under a Creative Commons license with the following characteristics Attribution/Sharealike.
- You may not make any changes to the articles published on our site, except for dates, locations (according to the news, if necessary), and your editorial policy. The content must be reproduced and represented by the licensee as published by The Choice, without any cuts, additions, insertions, reductions, alterations or any other modifications.If changes are planned in the text, they must be made in agreement with the author before publication.
- Please make sure to cite the authors of the articles, ideally at the beginning of your republication.
- It is mandatory to cite The Choice and include a link to its homepage or the URL of thearticle. Insertion of The Choice’s logo is highly recommended.
- The sale of our articles in a separate way, in their entirety or in extracts, is not allowed , but you can publish them on pages including advertisements.
- Please request permission before republishing any of the images or pictures contained in our articles. Some of them are not available for republishing without authorization and payment. Please check the terms available in the image caption. However, it is possible to remove images or pictures used by The Choice or replace them with your own.
- Systematic and/or complete republication of the articles and content available on The Choice is prohibited.
- Republishing The Choice articles on a site whose access is entirely available by payment or by subscription is prohibited.
- For websites where access to digital content is restricted by a paywall, republication of The Choice articles, in their entirety, must be on the open access portion of those sites.
- The Choice reserves the right to enter into separate written agreements for the republication of its articles, under the non-exclusive Creative Commons licenses and with the permission of the authors. Please contact The Choice if you are interested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extracts: It is recommended that after republishing the first few lines or a paragraph of an article, you indicate "The entire article is available on ESCP’s media, The Choice" with a link to the article.
Citations: Citations of articles written by authors from The Choice should include a link to the URL of the authors’ article.
Translations: Translations may be considered modifications under The Choice's Creative Commons license, therefore these are not permitted without the approval of the article's author.
Modifications: Modifications are not permitted under the Creative Commons license of The Choice. However, authors may be contacted for authorization, prior to any publication, where a modification is planned. Without express consent, The Choice is not bound by any changes made to its content when republished.
Authorized connections / copyright assignment forms: Their use is not necessary as long as the republishing rules of this article are respected.
Print: The Choice articles can be republished according to the rules mentioned above, without the need to include the view counter and links in a printed version.
If you choose this option, please send an image of the republished article to The Choice team so that the author can review it.
Podcasts and videos: Videos and podcasts whose copyrights belong to The Choice are also under a Creative Commons license. Therefore, the same republishing rules apply to them.