How to Reel In The Forces of Serendipity, Schema, Creativity

An Unexpected Triad that Plays A Powerful Role In The Online Environment

reel in schema, serendipity, creativity

There are mysterious and powerful forces at play underlying what we notice on the surface of things. Like some gravitational pull or thrust forward to unforeseen events, connections and productive detours, their momentum can be unrelenting. Examination reveals that they might be harnessed and utilized and it multiplies when we comprehend their relationships to each other. For instance, how are the seemingly disparate phenomena serendipity, schema and creativity related to each other? And why does it matter to us? It goes like this.

To make sense of the world, we organize internal information and knowledge to understand and engage with our environment. As a natural part of our ordinary existence our brains create categories and relationships, units or patterns of thought and behavior; preconceptions that act as our cognitive building blocks in every situation we encounter. These shortcuts constructed from our past experiences for present and future experiences, for interpreting, systematizing information in our environment are called schema. When referred to in psychology and cognitive sciences they’re called social or cognitive schema. In Internet terms, simply “schema”.

But what happens when there’s interference or unexpected change in the structure of the information? Share on XWhen these linked mental representations, the cognitive framework that describes and predicts our environment, place, people and events, are inconsistent, in violation or discombobulated in some way, we are left to make sense out of nonsense. Things appear illogical. Topsy-turvy or like the image in a funhouse mirror, hard to grasp. It can be displacing. Disquieting. This is known as a Schema Violation or Schema Inconsistency.

For a few years we had a bright turquoise blue dog piñata hanging upside down from a high beam in our office. The day we put it up there our cat happened to come running (at full speed) into the room on one of his gallivants and stopped extremely short as he looked up. He was the perfect replica of a cartoon figure who had stuck his finger in an electric socket. Tail up and scraggy all over. Fur standing on end. Shocked to the bone and horrified at the impossible sight he was beholding. It made absolutely no sense. It didn’t fit into any world he was familiar with. Schema violation. Dog not dog. Ceiling not ceiling. Floor in the sky. And on and on. Heck, serious place of business not serious place (that one was intentional).

When schema is in violation, the expectations we place on the world are thwarted and we don’t know how to respond to incoming stimuli. It may seem like a bad thing. But it doesn’t need to be. Actually, it can be a rather good thing. We can learn from it and make it work for us.

Watch for an opportunity to capture and boost creativity and its kin, serendipity. Share on X Our world turned sideways or upside down, unrecognizable for a moment forces us to reorient, reinvent and problem-solve. Get creative. This is where the qualities of serendipity, creativity, schema and more specifically, schema violation (or inconsistency) come together. They have the power to enhance each other’s breadth. Broaden potential. Make something new. And not surprisingly, each of them have a role in your experience online. They effect your digital marketing efforts and your business on the Internet.

The Intersection Online: Serendipity, Creativity and Schema On The Internet (And In Web Design)

Serendipity is often referred to as a happy accident. It’s not that simple. [clickToTweet tweet=”It’s up to us to recognize accidents and make something of them.” quote=”It’s up to us to recognize that accident and make something of it.”] It’s an opportunity that’s malleable and we have a role in its ultimate realization. Something we can invite and participate in. Develop a radar and dexterity for. The more prepared we are, the more it can occur. 

The web is a breeding ground for serendipity. To get that all we have to do is think of the surprises we encounter and the developments that arise when we’re prepared and open. I explored this in my last blog article:

(Serendipity’s) likelihood is increased in today’s online connected world. With the tremendous opportunities for new relationships, cross-pollinating concepts, idea sharing, collaboration, in search, social media and business itself we adopt it as something to value and safeguard. But we can go farther than that. When we fully integrate serendipity into our standard operating procedure it naturally becomes intertwined in all aspects of our business.”

Creativity is ready and just waiting to happen in the accident-opportunities that become the vortex of various unrelated ideas and events. Fragments that wouldn’t normally converge; the ingredients of serendipity. It’s creativity, wrapped in sagacity, that knows how to take advantage of cues and triggers of potential. Sagacity and creativity transform a mere opportunity into something tangible and entirely new. Share on X It is the intelligence, expertise, skill and craftsmanship that brings about the marriage of accidents to the mindset and ability, willingness to follow the perceived path that really counts. That creates the serendipitous result. As Dr. R. Keith Sawyer (cited below) reports, divergence from the known path, disturbance in the normal flow of things plays a role in creativity.

So Now We’ve Got Creativity & Serendipity (Coolness Squared)

Social Schema And Schema Violation: Their Effect On Serendipity And Creativity

When we don’t know how to respond to incoming stimuli we are still required to react in some way so we reconfigure the incoming information. The need for creativity emerges. The only option is osmosis or to regroup and reconfigure.

The processes through which schemas are adjusted or changed are known as assimilation and accommodation. In assimilation, new information is incorporated into pre-existing schemas. In accommodation, existing schemas might be altered or new schemas might be formed as a person learns new information and has new experiences.”

Both assimilation and accommodation call on our creative energies. When all bets are off, we have a natural instinct to get creative.

Types of cognitive/social schema include:

  • person schema – Attributes of an individual such as values and skills
  • event schema – Processes, behaviorally oriented practices or the ways we approach tasks or problems.
  • role schema – Role expectations, how we expect an individual to behave.
  • self-schema – Generalizations about the self garnered from past and present experiences. A person’s self-perception.
  • Other examples of schemata include academic rubrics, stereotypes,social roles, scripts, world views, and

“…people are more likely to notice things that fit into their schema, while re-interpreting contradictions to the schema as exceptions or distorting them to fit.” (Wikipedia)

Now let’s jump to the Internet.

Web Design, Serendipity & Schema

In web design, we’re governed by strategic creative thinking and creative application at every layer of development. Cognizance and readiness for opportunity and innovations that are sparked by unexpected connections expands the chances for serendipitous events. Not only in the development process but also in online business across the web.

Slightly more abstracted but also relevant is the hands-on experience of designing and developing for multiple entities simultaneously as a constant source of diversity and surprising cross-pollination. It’s not at all unusual for the creative process even in technical implementation to surprise us with unimagined solutions and unplanned for but useful relationships between things. Cross-references and diversity. Expanded fresh learning, endless sequences of discovery. The web is steeped in all that.

To include web design here may seem under-relevant but it isn’t. It’s where it all starts on the web. Every website and the entities they represent are part of the whole of the Internet and is participating in feeding it with information, experience, knowledge and connections. It is the responsibility of each website to define itself accurately in order to take its correct place in context and in search on the web.

And that brings us to a slightly different kind of schema.

Schema Usage On The Internet

Schemas, in their application the Internet, are types of things and events with properties. Schema’s defining structured markup is a fundamental tool for identification and meaning. Context. Its use on the web, imperative. We use schemata or structured data on our websites to aid search engines in understanding what our web pages and content are about. Richer search results that they produce makes it easier for searchers/users to find the information they’re looking for.

The full list of schema can be found here. Some commonly used schemas are Person, Place, Organization, LocalBusiness, Restaurant, Product, Recipe, Music, Book, Movie, Event, Health, Offer, Review, Action, CreativeWorks.

The Triad

It’s not necessary to have a deep academic understanding to feel the rich potential of viewing them as a triad that can add meaning to your experience.

In the case of web page data, schema violation would work powerfully against us. The web needs the structure and accuracy. The last thing you would want is a visitor arriving at your website and experiencing any sensations associated with displacement, confusion or a need to define just what they’re looking at. But when it comes to serendipity and creativity, social schema violation can work powerfully for us. It becomes an ally of sorts.

“…studies show that “schema violations” result in greater “cognitive flexibility,” and that cognitive flexibility is linked to creativity.”
Reference to the  2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology described by Eric Weiner, Wall Street Journal. My original source: Dr. R. Keith Sawyer, creativity expert, Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

We already know that creativity is necessary for serendipity. So all three flow from one to the other connecting and building strength.

Some Historical Context

Schema emerged into the field of psychology adapted from the work of philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in 1926 by Jean Piaget, Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher known for his epistemological studies with children. It is the underpinning of today’s web schema, which is the definition of a data structure applied on the Internet, web pages and email. Schematas also appeared in psychologist Fredric Bartlett’s research in reconstructive memory whose book, Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology, was published in 1932. It described groundbreaking studies of memory and presented the theory of schema.

Fast-forward to the 1970s and Marvin Minsky’s work in artificial intelligence. Minsky, a cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy (Google) borrowed schema theory from Bartlett’s work.

Wind again through the years with various individuals and teams investigating and adding to the research. And now here we are today with, a dedicated, collaborative, community activity developed to promote schemas and schema-centric shared vocabulary in an organized consensus forum across the Internet. Pretty amazing.

Awareness Is An Invitation

While my primary focus in this context has been on the relationship of cognitive/social schema to creativity and serendipity, rather than schema’s role on the Internet, it is not only interesting but also informative and important to be aware of the relationship between the two. It goes towards grasping the fundamental concepts of how schema is used in search and search engine optimization and why it’s so important to us. But even more than that, perhaps, is how the awareness of each and both together makes us look a little differently at the world, hopefully taking less for granted. It awakens childlike wonder and delight.

Allowing for the blurry edges of personal, social or cognitive schema violation adds to the serendipity quotient. That’s something we know is a gain. Spontaneity, suspension of disbelief, curiosity, exploration, creativity create a hothouse of invention small and big. When something strikes us the way serendipity does, we have a greater chance of locking it into our personal operating system, our memory and emotional experience as something special that stands out from the mundane events of our day-to-day routine. It’s got penetration strength. Deeper learning. And each incident adds to the one before it eventually providing proof to ourselves that we can go astray in constructive ways. It’s good to wander, be drawn or forced off course.

Personally, I find myself continuing to reverberate with a sort of vigilance, on the lookout for serendipity and even schema violation (of the benevolent kind), for the opportunities of recognition and the spark of creativity that will bring. I see myself watching out, perched on alert for the serendipity pattern-non-pattern to occur in any moment of discovery. Or the way schema violation can tip you over. I don’t want to miss anything. 

“…a number of ideas that today we consider false actually changed the world (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse) and how, in the best instances, false beliefs and discoveries totally without credibility could then lead to the discovery of something true (or at least something that we consider true today). In the field of the sciences, this mechanism is known as serendipity” (Eco, 1999, p.viii)

Have You Been Noticing? How To Do It Better

To better hone your skills for recognizing serendipitous opportunity or schema violation and learning how best to ignite the creativity it requires for solidity, begin by simply noticing. That sounds so simple but it takes diligence and practice. If something occurs in a way that feels unusual, that’s a clue. It tells us that there’s a whisper of possibility there. A chance to think differently. Come up with a different approach. A chance to see if there’s another route to take in our actions. One (or more) where you will capitalize on unplanned events.

Breaking small habits can be useful for reeling in serendipity & creativity and validating and using or discrediting schema. Share on XSit on the other side of the desk. Hold your phone with your less dominant hand. Pay attention to whatever schemas you can slow yourself down enough to register. Didn’t you see that upside down paper dog standing on the ceiling? They actually happen very frequently. Get to know them. Witness in your own mind what your thinking does to get traction. Your muscles for bending situations into their most constructive iterations will gain strength. Any you’ll find yourself dialed in becoming a seasoned serendipity, creativity producer. One that can see how schemas can hinder or encourage fresh forward movement.



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    By: Gina Fiedel

    Gina Fiedel is the co-founder/owner of Fat Eyes Web Development. After a successful career as an artist and transitioning into electronic media in the early 90’s, she then founded Fat Eyes in 1998 to bring those skills to the web with her husband, Doug Anderson. Being engaged in business has created gratifying opportunities for communication and new inroads towards making a contribution that counts. You can learn more about Gina on the Fat Eyes Who Are We? page and Gina Fiedel Story.

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