Are you someone who avoids failure, who won’t start a project unless you know that you can complete it perfectly? In other words, are YOU a perfectionist? If you are, then you could be missing out on discovering new things about yourself and your job, and perhaps make the world a better place. Consider these seven stories of serendipity or accidental discovery:
3M chemist Patsy Sherman accidentally discovered Scotchgard while trying to invent a rubber material that would resist exposure to jet fuels. Although at the time her search for such a compound was unsuccessfully, she did notice that a patch of the liquid that had spilled on her shoe repelled stains and dirt, while the rest of her shoe didn’t.
I know that I loved my Silly Putty when I was a kid, and can still remember the day that I cracked open that plastic egg! But what I didn’t know at the time, was that it had been discovered by accident by an engineer at General Electric during World War II, who was trying to make a rubber substitute out of silicone.
Initially developed by Pfizer as a treatment for heart disease, the “little blue pill” didn’t work so well for men’s hearts, but it did work VERY well for something else!
A popular children’s toy was accidentally invented when a marine engineer, who was trying to invent a device to be used on battleships, dropped a spring and watched it bounce around on the floor.
Many of us have heard about the discovery of penicillin – microbiologist Alexander Fleming, being too lazy to clean his used petri dishes, just happened to notice that a mould (later found to be a member of the penicillin mould family) had killed the bacteria surrounding it.
Strangely enough, the inkjet printer was invented by Canon after one of their engineers rested a hot iron on his pen, and observed that ink squirted from the end moments later.
And just about my favourite example of when failure turns to success (and another from the company 3M) is the story of the development of sticky notes. 3M researcher Spencer Silver had been trying to make a strong adhesive when he actually invented a much weaker one, that was later found to be perfect for temporarily attaching a note to another piece of paper!
In all of these cases, the people involved didn’t know where they were going to end up, and could not possibly predict the end result of their endeavours, or the benefits that some of them would have for society (consider penicillin, for example, that has saved many lives). The next time that you are thinking of starting a new project or learning something new, remember the stories of discovery listed here and see what you can do “by accident”.