My Quest for Serendipity

By Noah Graff

Wednesday I sold a LICO LNT-42S CNC lathe to an old customer (assuming I’m not jinxing the deal by writing about it now). I confess, a month ago a European customer agreed to buy this same machine and its mate, but then 24 hours later he backed out! Wait, did I have a similar story in my last blog? 

But I digress.

The story of this LICO goes back a bit. A few months ago, a different customer sent me an email out of the blue, telling me he was interested in buying this machine model. I suppose he contacted us because this machine is described by people as a sophisticated CNC version of a Brown & Sharpe screw machine. It’s a machine that almost never turns up on the used market, which can be a good thing or a bad thing for a used machinery dealer/treasure hunter like myself. 

I posted online that I was looking for this machine on Surplus Record, a bulletin for people who have used equipment they want to buy and sell. A few hours later, a used machinery dealer, who we had done a deal with recently, contacted me to tell me that he had just bought two of these machines. He had never sold a LICO before and neither had we, but the machines looked really good, so we took a chance and bought them for stock.

The original customer who asked for the machines never ended up buying them, but we weren’t phased. We knew we would eventually sell them to somebody.

Were we lucky to find these machines—one of which I sold this week? We wouldn’t have found them if we hadn’t been searching for them for customer who turned out not to really want them.

Rather than sheer luck, I classify this occurrence as serendipity, a vital ingredient for success in the used machinery business. 

Noah with a LICO LNT-42S At Graff-Pinkert

I recently started listening to a book, The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck, by Christian Busch. Busch says that people who experience a lot serendipity in their lives, aren’t just lucky, they set themselves up for the unexpected. If people want to find new treasure, be it a good used screw machine or the love of their life, they have to put themselves in situations where a lucky discovery can happen. 

As time consuming and awkward as it sometimes feels, talking on the phone is one of the most useful things for me to find serendipity. Often I call a customer to try to sell a machine and he says he doesn’t want it. But then we talk a bit, and I discover something way better than the thing I had first called about. Maybe he does’t want my Wickman, but he has three Citizens he wants to sell.

I’ve discovered over time that specificity in a conversation is an important trigger to bring out potential serendipity. If I call someone out of the blue and ask them, “Is there any used equipment you want to buy or sell?” more often than not they will say, “no, we’re good.” But if I look on their company’s website and comment on certain machines I see, or if a customer teaches me about their business, new potential opportunities materialize. If a customer has a lot of ACME-GRIDLEYs and I make a comment about that, there is a decent chance there is either an ACME they wish they had or one they don’t want anymore. 

Maybe the conversation does not lead to a deal, but the customer tells me something important that ends up improving my life. Maybe the customer is smart and fascinating, and they agree to be a guest on my podcast! That’s quality serendipity.

When I get to work in the morning, the first thing I do is update my to-do list for the week and for that specific day. I want to keep my eye on the ball and get stuff done. Unfortunately, if I am too focused, I miss out on the chance to explore and find things accidentally. So I try to set aside my afternoons to loosen up a little and make some calls. I try to plan to have a period of time that is a little less planned.

Busch says we need to stop pretending that we can map everything out and control everything. Instead, we need a good compass, a guiding principle or north star so we can embrace the unexpected but still filter out distractions that can hinder success. I’m still trying to find the right formula.

Question: When has serendipity played a part in your life?

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3 thoughts on “My Quest for Serendipity

  1. Lloyd+Graff

    I met my wife the night I went, ping pong paddle in my pocket, to the University of Michigan Union. After playing awhile I heard music blaring and lots of girls passing the pool and ping pong area for the ballroom. I decided to check it out and say this beautiful young woman in the crowd with a very short skirt and was pulled almost by gravitation to her. I introduced myself and after a couple minutes attempting to connect, I asked her to move to a quieter place. Later, I asked her to get a snack, which we did, and then to come to my apartment to watch a movie. Within 6 weeks I was mentioning marriage. She was a 17 year old Freshman, I was 24, recently back from Basic Training. We will celebrate our 51st wedding anniversary God willing in a week.

    1. Graeme J Sinclair

      What a wonderful story. When i met my wife of now 51 years she too was wearing a very short mini skirt. I guess you and I are suckers for beautiful legs. Must be something of the engineer in us and our view that any think good has start from a good base.


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