Presented By O'Reilly and Cloudera
Make Data Work
September 26–27, 2016: Training
September 27–29, 2016: Tutorials & Conference
New York, NY

The art and science of serendipity

Pagan Kennedy (Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World)
9:50am–10:05am Wednesday, 09/28/2016
Location: Javits North
Average rating: ****.
(4.71, 99 ratings)

How do we discover what we’re not looking for? How can we become more serendipitous? In the age of big data and bioinformatics, such questions are more relevant than ever. We develop new tools to help us spot clues in mountains of information, and machines are getting better and better at aiding discovery. And yet, serendipity remains a very human art. Pagan Kennedy discusses the origins of the word serendipity and qualities of mind that lead to successful searches in the deep unknown.

Photo of Pagan Kennedy

Pagan Kennedy

Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World

Some inventions are the result of purposeful problem solving—like sippy cups to prevent toddlers from spilling juice or rolling luggage to make travel easier. Some are accidental, discoveries made by people working on something else entirely; for example, while testing heart medications, scientists noted side effects of one in particular, and the drug Viagra was born. Award-winning writer Pagan Kennedy explores the science of human imagination as it pertains to innovation and creativity. She unearths commonalities that predict the success of inventors, and theorizes that the skills required for “inventology” can be taught and learned.

In her latest book, Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World, "a delightful account of how inventors do what they do” (Kirkus Reviews), Pagan reveals the imaginative and practical processes behind groundbreaking innovations across numerous disciplines. From in-depth research and exhaustive interviews, she shows why successful inventors tend to be passionate, polymathic amateurs versus focused professionals working inside their fields. She explores whether serendipitous inspiration can be coaxed, suggests how to raise kids to be resourceful and inventive, and describes what factors beyond the “Aha!” moment are required for successful product development.

Pagan’s years of science reporting inform her takeaways on innovation, creativity, iconoclasts, and self-invention. Her 11 books include The First Man-Made Man, a study of early 20th Century transsexual Laura (formerly Michael) Dillon, whose desire to feel comfortable in her own skin drove experimentation and led to breakthrough medical technologies. Pagan’s journalism has appeared in dozens of publications including the New York Times Magazine, where she wrote the Innovation/Who Made That? column. Pagan’s Head, her early ‘zine, anticipated today’s highly personal, self-produced creative culture. She has also taught widely, including at Dartmouth College, Boston College, and Johns Hopkins University. As a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, Pagan studied microbiology and neuroengineering; she has won numerous other awards including an NEA fellowship, a Smithsonian fellowship, and two Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowships.

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Picture of Pagan Kennedy
Pagan Kennedy
10/13/2016 8:28am EDT

Hi Pradeep and Helio — Thanks for your kind words.
My NY Times piece on serendipity is available here -
And the slide deck is available here –

Pradeep Varadan
10/13/2016 7:46am EDT

Hi Pagan,

I found this session insightful. Could you share the slides?


Picture of Helio Silva
Helio Silva
09/29/2016 9:43am EDT

I’d like to have a copy of deck.

09/28/2016 6:16am EDT

Very Infirmational,Inspirational and Creative talk