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The prepared firm: serendipity, strategy and the unexpected

Deryck J. Van Rensburg (Graziadio Business School, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, USA)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 28 August 2023

Issue publication date: 23 July 2024

141

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to outline the role that serendipity can play in providing a complementary and previously unrepresented vector in deliberate and emergent strategies within organizations.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is conceptual in nature and draws upon the serendipity pattern in sociological theory and serendipitous relations in developmental sciences to provide a framework for executives to consider when examining the process of strategy formation. Two case vignettes are used to illustrate the difference between luck and serendipity and the paper also traces key micro foundations of serendipity by returning to the original serendipity fable and a famed science experiment producing “floppy-eared” rabbits.

Findings

The notion of chance favoring the “prepared firm” is espoused where the prepared organizational mind is positioned as an antecedent of serendipitous strategy formation. This is based on Louis Pasteur’s famous aphorism, “chance favors the prepared mind.” Components of the prepared firm include deep domain knowledge, anticipatory mindset, noticing, abductive reasoning, elaboration and relations development.

Research limitations/implications

The paper is a conceptual articulation of a novel concept that now requires deeper empirical case development and ultimately statistical validation. The paper suggests linkages between serendipity and theories of absorptive capacity and the attention-based view of the firm.

Practical implications

Several mindsets, capabilities and relations for architecting organizational serendipity are suggested for executives using a stylized framework.

Originality/value

From a strategy process perspective, the Mintzberg and Waters seminal article “Of strategies deliberate and emergent” is complemented by considering “floppy-eared” strategy characterized by unexpected, anomalous and strategic datum.

Keywords

Citation

Van Rensburg, D.J. (2024), "The prepared firm: serendipity, strategy and the unexpected", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 45 No. 5, pp. 293-304. https://doi.org/10.1108/JBS-07-2023-0132

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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