Random May Not Be So Random

Have you ever had an “out of the clear blue” experience? Like, “out of the clear blue, there he was, just when I needed him.”

I have. Here’s an example.
Building an addition

Several decades ago I decided to build an addition onto my home. When the time came to put in the cement slab, I subcontracted it out to a friend of mine. He did a fine job. But after he left, the outside water facet nearest the slab blew off and water started running out onto the wet cement. I stood there dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to do. All of the sudden “out of the clear blue,” another friend of mine, Tony Capana, who had never visited my home before, showed up. He just happened to be someone who had had a lot of experience with plumbing. Without saying a word, he quickly diverted the water, turned off the main water valve, and reattached the faucet. It goes without saying, a cement project was saved.

What an absolutely random event. How does one explain events like these? Well, usually, we chalk such things up to coincidence, as in, “it was just a coincidence.”

Coincidence” is a fascinating idea. My hunch, and reason for writing this article, is that coincidences happen to most of us a lot more than we realize. Before I explain why, let me share another random experience with you.
California’s Balboa Island

Last month, my wife and I were walking on the sidewalk next to the canal that surrounds the tiny beach community of Balboa Island in southern California, when a man came up from behind us and said hello. He was walking his dog. We responded in kind and moved to one side to let him and his dog go by. But, Instead of passing us, he engaged in light conversation. He introduced himself as Alfonso. In due time, Alonso said that in June of 1964, he moved from Argentina to southern California as a young nineteen year old. “What a coincidence,” I said. “In June of 1964, I moved to Argentina from southern California when I was nineteen.”

At the time, I remember thinking of a concept I had studied in graduate school. It was called “Meaningful Coincidence.” The idea was first developed by the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. In it, he said there are times when random events hook up in meaningful ways. Jung believed there was no such thing as pure coincidence. Jung postulated that some mechanism deep in nature’s make-up (he called it “Synchronicity“) triggers the hooking up of random events in ways that are important. Because we only notice the dramatic ones, we erroneously conclude that two random events intersecting in an interesting way are a mere coincidence.

This is similar to an idea developed by mathematician J.E. Littlewood of Cambridge University. He calculated that according to the number of activities the average human engages in during a life time, one should have a “miracle” or meaningful coincidence happen to them once every 35 days.

Random events that we chalk up as coincidences may turn out to be more meaningful than once thought. They may have their own set of rules and serve a need. What’s more they may happen to us far more frequently than we ever realized. That brings me to another experience I had.
Santa Fe, Argentina

When I arrived in Argentina as a nineteen year old, I first lived in the city of Santa Fe. The first week I was there, I was walking down the street when I ran into a kid I had gone to high school with in Long Beach, California. His name was Daniel Conteres and he had been a foreign exchange student from Argentina. He, like I, was a water polo player, and that’s where I met him. Because he spoke very little English, I helped him learn English water polo words and phrases. Now, here I was, in his home city of Santa Fe, Argentina, knowing next to nothing of Spanish, with him offering to help me out.

I don’t know if my coincidental experiences with Alfonso and Daniel Conteres were earth shakingly meaningful to me personally, but they do, in my opinion, create an interesting pattern.

However, there is one area of my life where the idea of “Meaningful Coincidence” has been very important to me personally. It has taken place in my business activity. For example, I have observed that when I want to accomplish something in business, I have a habit of beginning to talk as if it were already happening. If I do this long enough usually somewhere along the line, some “random” event pops up that hooks up nicely with my words. The following experience describes what I mean.
Middle East

A little more than five years ago, I started telling anyone who would listen to me, that I was going to do a lot more work internationally. A little more than three years ago, “out of the clear blue” I received an invitation to go to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to do management consulting for one of the largest international companies in the world, Siemens Ltd. Of course, I accepted the invitation, and then witnessed an avalanche of business come our way in the most unexpected ways.

First, GreenTeaHP, of which I am one of the owners, started receiving orders for product from Dubai and Doha (Qatar). Second, we received invitations from the business people making these orders to visit them in order to establish deeper business relationships. Of course we accepted. And last, two months ago Siemens extended another invitation, this time to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Did we accept? Yes.

Oh, yes, Riyadh, Doha, and Dubai are all under two hours from one another by plane. Will we be flying between these three cities over the next five to ten years? Yes. Did this Middle East experience seem random? Yes. Has it turned out to be meaningful? Yes. Was I involved in some way in facilitating the occurrence of this meaningful experience? I think so.
What’s It All About?

I’ve concluded, at least for me, there’s more to random experiences than meets the eye. I am certain that what we might think of as a coincidence may not actually be a pure coincidence. My sense is that as far as we as individuals are concerned, we may have more to do with what happens in random events than we might think. Bottom line, random may not be so random.