We’ve all experienced it. That “Ohhh” moment when your eyes open and you realize something awesome just happened. A “Happy Accident” is an unexpected pleasant situation or event that is not planned or intended. In any creative field, this phenomenon occurs a lot. It’s especially significant when you are toiling away, lost in the difficult intricacies of a project, and then POOF, something happens, and all the elements that seem to be at odds, merge unexpectedly.
We want such coincidences to happen more, but how? In the often excited haze during and afterward, we wonder if it was just a miracle or a 1 in a million chance of something similar ever happening again. Here’s the catch: it’s possible. Encountering a “Happy Accident” is often a rare phenomenon, but if you know what ingredients create them, the frequency of them occurring can be increased.
So what is the trick? The answer is simple. Be happy. As cliche as it sounds, being happy brings about a level of animation that is necessary to allow our mind to work more effectively. In fact, when we are “happy”, areas of the brain “light up” or show bursts of activity. The greater the stimulation in response to happiness the more blood flow or electrical activity there is in that affected part of the brain. In actuality, a great majority of European words for “happy” originally were meant as “lucky”. In Welsh, “happy” actually was meant for “wise”.
So, say you’ve reached a point in a project that seems to be getting nowhere, and the deadline is flashing in fluorescent in front of you and you can’t seem to reach a close and clear resolution. In this mental state, the chance of you encountering an epiphany is less likely. Unfortunately, the spiral thickens and continues downward.
But, how can this be avoided? We can’t be happy all the time. We aren’t bunny rabbits. History has proved that “Happy Accidents” occur in years of trial and error, failure upon failure, and loads of frustration. Our very behavior as human beings is constantly in flux and the very concept of “process” is ambiguous.
The key point here is the practice of playfulness and to be mindful. To be playful is an underestimated ingredient during the creative process because dead-ends are simply a result of having expectations and taking our endeavors too serious. This is the also a challenge too because our endeavors are important to us. When we focus more on the decision-making, the specifics of the project and not the end goal, “to be happy” isn’t nearly as difficult and the process can be more enjoyable. When we are happy, we are more open and more likely to pay attention and take more risks. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, a Nobel prize-winning biochemist, stated it perfectly, “A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.” So pay attention, and enjoy the unexpected challenges, and the fluctuation along the way. It isn’t so much the accident part we need to pay attention to, it’s the happy part, the part where we are open to what we are doing, and more importantly, we are enjoying it. Think about it, if we weren’t paying attention along the way things such as beer, corn flakes, dynamite, the microwave, stainless steel, popsicles, x-rays, and even the Rolling Stones wouldn’t exist.
To reach a point of discovery takes perseverance and time. In the earlier stages, the idea is a lingering obscure concept where the outcome is the clearest objective. These two dynamics conflict and fluctuate. This is normal, and what we want. For something to be great, friction is necessary. It’s the very definition of any process, the challenges we face that make our efforts worthwhile, accident or not. So pay attention, be playful, recognize the obstacles and persevere. A prepared mind is all it takes and who knows what you’ll discover along the way. Stumbling on to something isn’t as difficult as you think.