Before we dive in, a question?
What do the inventions pictured below have in common?
Answer? They were all invented by accident?
As we at Edison Nation have always said, innovation can come from anywhere. You do not need a research lab or a huge product development team to bring something new into the world. There may be occasions where you put your idea to paper and are able to execute it to solve the exact problem you identify. More often than not, however, you?ll have to go through several iterations to polish your idea, often ending up in a different place than you started. This is the beauty of innovating, and the root of how some of the world?s most well-known inventions began, not as mistakes, or failures, but opportunities.
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of the term serendipity is as follows:
The faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.
In his book ?The Art and Science of Inventing,? author Gilbert Kivenson says inventing by accident can occur in two ways. One is where an inventor may ?get stuck? and not find the solution they are looking for, only to come across it accidentally or by a chance observation. The second is when a completely new solution is identified unrelated to the original problem at hand.
Lynn Dornblaser, a new products analyst at market research firm, Mintel, builds on that idea. ?It is less about inventing by accident and more about finding a truly unique way to repurpose something. And that repurposed something may have been something that did not work in its original state.? This was true for Post-it notes. ?The adhesive was too weak for its original purpose, so a new purpose was invented,? Dornblaser notes.
Let?s take a closer look at the process behind the invention of the Post-it…keeping in mind the four stages of creativity…
Dr. Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, was busily researching adhesives in the laboratory. In the process, he discovered something peculiar: an adhesive that stuck lightly to surfaces but didn?t bond tightly to them.
“It was part of my job as a researcher to develop new adhesives, and at that time we wanted to develop bigger, stronger, tougher adhesives,” said Silver. “This was none of those.”
Silver had actually discovered microspheres which retain their stickiness but with a “removability characteristic,” allowing attached surfaces to peel apart easily.
For years, Silver struggled to find a use for his invention, but he never gave up.
At the same time, another 3M scientist, Art Fry, was frustrated. Every Wednesday night while practicing with his church choir, he would use little scraps of paper to mark the hymns they were going to sing in the upcoming service. By Sunday, he?d find that they?d all fallen out of the hymnal. He needed a way to bookmark the paper without losing the bookmarks OR damaging the pages.
Little did he know that a solution existed before his problem was even identified. Fry recalled hearing about Silver?s microspheres, and partnered with him to create the first version of the Post-it. Thinking back to a seminar he?d attended on Silver?s microspheres, he had what he now refers to as his eureka moment.
Today, Post-its are now available in 27 sizes, 57 colors and 20 fragrances, generating over $1 billion annually.
Remember, inventing by accident doesn?t mean sitting back and waiting for something happen. To the contrary, it is exactly the opposite. Recognize the new product for what it is and put it to good use. Had Silver dismissed the ?failed? microsphere adhesive product he created by accident, the opportunity would have been missed.
Turn your accident into innovation. Kivenson notes that in order to profit from serendipity, an inventor must take note of ?everything you experience that seems strange to you.? You never know when or how you may find your next BING! moment.