On my mind

Serendipity, Jenny Blake, and indexes

20 March 2024

As I was reading Cal Newport‘s latest book this week, Slow Productivity, I came across the name of a podcast host I listen to regularly, Jenny Blake. She hosts two podcasts: Free Time with Jenny Blake and Pivot with Jenny Blake. Free Time episodes spotlight how to use smarter systems in your business to free up time. Pivot focuses on change and how to get better at rolling with change. Newport discussed Blake’s free time methods several times in his book. I thought this was serendipitous because I had just attended a recording of a live episode over Zoom for Blake’s private podcast with Bard Press publisher, Todd Sattersten.

I connect the term “serendipity” with Blake because she uses it so frequently on her podcast. But where else did she use it? I pulled her book, Free Time, off my shelf and opened up to the index. Yes, there were multiple related terms: serendipity, serendipity popcorn, and Serendipity Signage!

But what caught my attention was a term sitting in close proximity to serendipity. Across the column was Suez Canal. The Suez Canal??? I blinked twice. What was that doing in a book on busywork and relieving bottlenecks in your business?

So I flipped over to page 90. Wouldn’t you know, serendipity was at play again—because Blake was using the example of the container ship Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal in 2021, creating a bottleneck in the shipping industry. The effect rippled across the world and into many other industries.

Now, why would an indexer choose to include the Suez Canal in the index of a business book about time management practices? Doesn’t this feel off-topic? After all, the name caught my attention because it clearly didn’t fit in with the surrounding terms like sunk costs, subscriptions, and style guides.

A very important aspect of an indexer’s job is to give many access points to the book’s content. A reader might want to return to the discussion about how things get back up in a business, but what stands out in their mind might not be the “butterfly effect” or “bottleneck” but rather the image of a huge container ship getting stuck in the “Suez Canal.”

By the way, another reader could have found their way to the same discussion by looking up both “bottleneck effect” and “butterfly effect.”