The creating of innovation is not always planed. Normally, one does not simply get out of bed in the morning and exclaim, “I will be great today.” Like other things, innovations can happen by accident. Over the years, there have been many innovations that were achieved through some type of accident. In this post, we will look at how an error, exaptation, and serendipitous event could lead to innovation.
One way is by trial and error. Errors are simply a mistake or output from the trial that is not expected. Not all errors are bad. Some errors can lead down a different path that you might not have been thinking before you made a mistake. A good example of an error is when Mr. Goodyear accidentally dropped a vat of his liquid rubber onto a hot stove causing it to become a hard leather-like material (Orf, 2013).
Another way an innovation may come about is through exaptation. Exaptation is using older ideas or parts in a new implementation of the product (Tam, 2018). Many of the evolutionary adaptations can be attributed to exaptation (Tam, 2018). Technology also follows a similar evolutionary process when it comes to using tried and true ideas in new technology to come up with a new product.
We should also look at how serendipity can play a role in innovations. A serendipitous event can be thought of as a “happy accident” or making a discovery of something you were not trying to discover (Scofield, 2011). A good example of this is how Play-Doh came to be. Play-Doh was first invented as a cleaning product for wallpaper until it was found to be a more enjoyable children’s toy (Biddle, 2012).
An innovation that has always caught my eye was how the microwave oven came about. A scientist by the name of Percy Spencer was working for the Raytheon Corporation in 1945 (Cooper, 2015). While working in a lab with a radar device, Spencer observed that a chocolate bar in his pocket was being melted (Cooper, 2015). It would not be accurate to say that Spencer created an error, but rather had a serendipitous event, or a “happy accident.” Spencer, when on to conduct various experiments, even placing popcorn kernels inside a paper bag to see if they would pop correctly (Cooper, 2015).
In summary, it is important to keep
in mind that not all mistakes are bad. As we have seen throughout this post, having
an accident during an experiment could lead to a new type of innovation. It is
important to keep an open mind when examining the results. You never know what
new and improved innovation you might have just discovered.
Biddle, S. (2012). The 10 Most (accidental) inventions of all time. Gizmodo. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38870091/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/greatest-accidental-inventions-all-time/#.Xhz8HchKjic
Cooper, K. (2015). Microlessons: Toward a History of Information-Age Cuisine. Technology and Culture, 56(3), 579-609.
Orf, D. (2013). 10 Awesome Accidental Discoveries. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/g1216/10-awesome-accidental-discoveries/
Scofield, D. (2011). Serendipitous Innovation. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2011/08/23/serendipitous-innovation/#4eb6ddc6428d
Tam, M. (2018). Patterns of Innovation: How Exaptation Can Lead to Creative Breakthroughs. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/asia-p3-hub-updates/patterns-of-innovation-how-exaptation-can-lead-to-creative-breakthroughs-d7a0a3641d8c