Serendipity: Towards a Taxonomy and a Theory
40 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2016 Last revised: 2 Nov 2017
Date Written: September 19, 2016
Serendipity, the notion of researchers making unexpected and beneficial discoveries, has played an important role in debates about the feasibility and desirability of targeting public R&D investments. The purpose of this paper is to show that serendipity can come in different forms and come about in a variety of ways. The archives of Robert K Merton, who introduced the term to the social sciences, were used as a starting point for gathering literature and examples. We identify four types of serendipity (Walpolian, Mertonian, Browsing, Curiosity) together with four mechanisms of serendipity (Theory-led, Observer-led, Error-borne, and Network-emergent). We also discuss implications of the different types and mechanisms for theory and policy.
Keywords: serendipity, uncertainty, research policy, science policy, technology policy, innovation management
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