They say that innovation is 99% perspiration, but then there’s that weird 1%. While history is filled with great minds toiling endlessly to solve a problem for the ages, sometimes the answer to a question that wasn’t being asked just slips in there.
The graphic from GetVoIP below shows how 12 of history's most famous inventions like the x-ray, galvanized rubber, and even the microwave, were discovered when an accident created the perfect conditions for innovation. Sometimes, the circumstances that create the perfect cauldron for innovation aren’t even human. According to legend, a canine invented Velcro -- more specifically, Swiss engineer George de Mestral did when he looked at how burrs tended to stick annoyingly to the fur of his hunting dog. From this simple antecedent we have a great way to avoid tying shoes.
If accidental innovation is relatively prevalent, what is the point of working diligently toward a specific outcome? Well, while accidents do happen, the those that “accidentally” made discoveries like these were not just laymen out of their depth that happened across a goldmine. All of these were high level innovators in their respective fields. While the way they invented their most famous products might have been due to a twist of fate, the work that went on behind-the-scenes was still considerable -- even if the conclusion was a simple mishap.
The lesson is that when working on a problem, it is important to be on the lookout for ways to reframe your given circumstances. It was these innovators openness to possibility that allowed them to make the leap from something might seem like failure into success from an askew angle. That’s how, for example, Edouard Benedictus’ dropped beaker led to the invention of safety glass.
The ability for these innovators to take circumstances and reframe them cannot be understated. Imagine, in 1945, the vision it took for electronics genius Percy Spencer to see a melted a chocolate bar in his pocket when working on a radar array and f imagine the culinary possibilities of what came to be the Microwave.
HOW TO INNOVATE ACCIDENTALLY:
Popular speaker and consultant Greg Satell says in an 2016 article in Forbes that there are many ways to be open to innovation, but he suggests that (especially today) collaboration is a crucial element. “In a networked world,” says Satell, “the surest path to success is not acquiring and controlling assets, but widening and deepening connections.”
After all, invention is one thing, but having a structure in place to promote your work, to prove it, to peer review and publish, to find value and then get it into hands that are able to produce it on a large scale is a question of having a capable network. We’ll never know how many innovations may have been squelched because loners working in their offices didn’t have the connections to get noticed.
However, though coincidentally created, the ones below were just too amazing to fail.