Serendipity: A happy accident or more precisely, finding something useful or good without looking for it.
This happens a lot in my line of work, and any investigative work really. Very often, the key piece of evidence is something “stumbled-upon” rather than actively sought.
Think about detective shows and how often the critical piece of evidence is found by the cop being somewhere she is not supposed to be or puts A and B and F and G from disparate events and Bob’s your Uncle.
Generally, for me it is in relation to financial issues—where’d the money go, who took it, how did they take it or when trying to figure out really complex situations. You have to be on the lookout for the critical piece of the puzzle, often that critical piece is an odd transaction of a specific dollar amount, and when the transaction surfaces, the inclination is to run with it. Usually this works out fine, but not so infrequently, it is a red herring and you find out after too many man-hours, that it was just wrong and you have to tell your boss or client you just wasted three months of time.
This is what I refer to as Inverted Serendipity, when something apparently good or useful upon further investigation is a waste of time or just flat incorrect.
A couple of real-world practical examples of Inverted Serendipity:
The Sudoku web page gives this instruction about the puzzles: Every Sudoku has a unique solution that can be reached logically. Enter numbers into the blank spaces so that each row, column and 3×3 box contains the numbers 1 to 9.
The more evil the puzzle, the more difficult to decide which number is correct and often, what may seem correct works out good for the next five of six or ten entries until there is a violation of the rules. Typically, this is so far back, you cannot remember which entries need to be erased and the puzzle wins.
You are sitting in a bar (or airport or anywhere, it doesn’t matter) and you notice that particularly attractive blonde glancing at you every few minutes, her head slightly down in a way you think implies interest. Your initial thought is along the lines of Is there something on my chin? Maybe cheese sauce? Or did I accidentally dip my tie in my drink? So, you check everything out in the mirror behind the bar and see there is nothing particularly odd going on with your appearance. And she keeps glancing at you and you realize there is a real interest behind those brown eyes and she gets up and starts walking to you and you are trying to think of what to say, half afraid you have met at a meeting or conference or something and you have forgotten her name, and she walks past you and greets the guy sitting at the table next to you.
The definition of Inverted Serendipity: Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
Now, had she actually been interested in you, that is Serendipity (unless you look like Johnny Depp or George Clooney, in which case this is a normal action for women you do not know and I hate you). But, she went past you to her true interest and the serendipitous feeling you were having was inverted and you order another drink.