What is Serendipity?

While serendipity often involves accidents, it is not accidental, or passive, writes Pagan Kennedy, author of Inventology, in The New York Times. The term itself was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, and was based on “a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who possess superpowers of observation.”

In other words, “serendipity … is something people do … That’s why we need to develop a new, interdisciplinary field — call it serendipity studies — that can help us create a taxonomy of discoveries in the chemistry lab, the newsroom, the forest, the classroom, the particle accelerator and the hospital.”


The Fairway Trajectory

“Fairway kept expanding—stores in more places around New York—and they aimed more at the median shopper,” reports Pacific Standard. “Gradually, the store lost its edge, its quirkiness. With great size comes great McDonaldization—predictability, calculability. “Like no other market,” says every Fairway sign and every Fairway plastic bag. But it became like lots of other markets, with ‘specials’ and coupons. Coupons! Fairway never had coupons. Or specials.”

“In the first months after the private equity firm took Fairway public in 2013, the stock price was as high as $26 a share. The other day, it closed at $1.04.”


iTunes Conditions: The Novel

Slate: “With iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel, artist R. Sikoryak aims to achieve the impossible: to make us read a document that virtually all of us have willfully ignored. Sikoryak’s recently completed book, published serially on Tumblr, contains the entirety of Apple’s iTunes terms of service, spreading its 20,000-odd words out over 94 pages, each styled after the work of a different comics artist.”

“By breaking the dense legalistic language up and inserting it into classic comics pages, Sikoryak sought to appropriate the visual medium’s narrative drive, creating the implication of story where none exists.”


Culture of Candor

The Wall Street Journal: Companies from advertising firm Deutsch Inc. to hedge fund Bridgewater Associates are pushing workers to drop the polite workplace veneer and speak frankly to each other no matter what. The practice is referred to at some companies as “radical candor,” a “mokita” or “front-stabbing.”

“You have to have a thick skin to work here,” says Val DiFebo, chief executive of Deutsch’s New York office. That could be an understatement: The company once distributed T-shirts showing a giant scar with stitches over the heart.

Recipients of the critiques are expected to defend themselves or make changes, Ms. DiFebo says. “I think it’s actually more big-hearted and caring to be confrontational in that way than going behind someone’s back,” she says.


Baba Oh Really?

Baba Ramdev, an Indian yoga guru, plans to beat Unilever, Nestlé and Procter & Gamble with “soap that contains dung and urine from cows,” and “creams, cleansers and supplements infused with centuries-old Ayurvedic remedies,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Our products are taking Indians back to their roots,” Ramdev says. “Foreign companies are fooling Indians by selling products tainted with chemicals and artificial flavors.”

Launched in 2006 with an herbal toothpaste, Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. today offers some 700 products, including eyeliner, cornflakes and instant noodles,” generating some $300 million in revenues. Ramdev predicts his company will be India’s biggest consumer-products company within five years. He’s not stopping there: “We’ve extracted gold from cow urine,” he says. “It’s only a matter of time before we win the rest of the world with our ancient remedies.”


The Future of the Future

“The timeline of innovation for the defining technology of our new age is barely a line at all,” writes David Weinberger in Slate. “The Internet happens, and all hell breaks loose. The future no longer works the way we thought it did. The spikes become not just continual but frequently simultaneous and radically unpredictable.”

“We are stepping into a future that is new not just in what it contains but in our picture of how it works. The future seems less like the product of a clockwork’s relentless ticking than the result of uncountable tiny pieces, each simultaneously affecting every other in ways that cannot be fully understood afterward, much less predicted beforehand. Plus, some of those small pieces are on the Internet actively inventing new futures together.”


Shopper’s Dilemma

Quartz: Everlane, an online clothing company, is letting customers choose which of three prices they want to pay. In each case, the cheapest price covers just the cost of producing the item and shipping it, and doesn’t factor in any of the overhead costs of Everlane’s 70-person staff. The middle price covers all costs, including staff, meaning Everlane breaks even. And the highest price covers all costs while giving Everlane a profit, which the company says allows it “to invest in growth.” So here’s the moral dilemma: If Everlane has what you want, which price will you choose to pay?


Year of Pinterest

Quartz: Pinterest’s value is inherently tied to the fact it’s a natural fit for retailers. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, which respectively focus on sharing moments from the past and present, Pinterest is all about the future—specifically the things people want in the future. In its early days, it gained traction among women who used the digital scrapbook to “pin” photos and collect ideas for their weddings, dream vacations, and home-decorating projects.

Because of Pinterest’s aspirational nature, merchants are eager to work the social network to get in front of potential customers. A survey conducted by Shopify in May found that 96% of Pinterest users go to the site to research products before buying.


Bookstore People

“There are people who really need bookstores, people who I have come to know well,” writes Annie Hartnett in Salon. “There’s the elderly woman who comes to every reading and sits in the front row. A professor visits in the afternoon to tell dirty jokes and he often brings challah to share. There is a therapist who works next door, and he buys and reads more novels than I would think is humanly possible or financially responsible.”

“Bookstores are for people who aren’t always listened to, or for people who don’t always have someone to talk to. Bookstores often attract people who are otherwise introverted, or people who don’t realize how much they need a social connection. It’s a comforting environment to socialize, an easy place to strike up a conversation.”