The history of innovation is the history of things that went right… by going wrong.

Like when something that isn’t supposed to happen, does…

When a malfunction in Crane’s lolly factory punched a hole through the centre of each mint, it ‘ruined’ the product but created the gimmick: Lifesavers, the candy with the hole.

…or something gets spilled, spoiled or ruined…

That’s the story of everything from penicillin to photography, dynamite to scotchguard, radium to cheese.

…or when something isn’t where it was supposed to be…

Searching for a short cut to India, Columbus found America instead.

Innovation happens when something essential runs out…

When he ran out of butter Napoleon’s chef invented margarine rather than serve the Emperor a dry croissant.

…or when two problems collide to create one solution for both…

In 1905 an icecream parlor with ‘not enough plates’ met a waffle merchant with ‘not enough customers’ to invent the icecream cone.

…or something that doesn’t work becomes something else that does.

Spenser Silver’s attempts to create a super-strong adhesive produced a glue that didn’t stick. Useless for its intended application, it was the critical ingredient in a product that would become 3M’s best selling Post-It Notes.

And sometimes ‘Too much’ turns out to be ‘Not enough.’

In 1688 a Benedictine monk, determined to prevent bubbles forming in white wine only managed to make the problem much, much worse. But when he sampled the spoiled wine for himself he exclaimed ‘I have been drinking the stars!’ His technique (the Methode Champenoise) created a drink which today bears the name of the monk: Dom Perignon.

But no matter what the story, the moral is always the same: if you get out of their way, some innovations will just find themselves. Or as Pasteur used to say ‘A discovery is an accident meeting an open mind.’


Avatar photo

Written by Jason Clarke

Twitter LinkedIn

Celebrated author, adventurer, gold medal Olympian and popular TV chef; Jason is none of these things. He is, however, one of the most sought-after creative minds in the country. As founder of Minds at Work, he’s helped people ‘think again’ since the end of the last century, working with clients across Australia in virtually every industry and government sector on issues ranging from creativity and trouble shooting to culture change and leadership.