Contrary to popular belief, breakthroughs are less about the act of inventing new things than they are the art of recognizing “happy accidents” — those unexpected moments when an elegant solution reveals itself for no particular reason.
The discovery of penicillin?
The result of Alexander Fleming noticing the formation of mold on the side of a Petri dish left unattended overnight.
Discovered in 1839 when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a lump of the polymer substance he was experimenting with onto his wife’s cook stove.
The post-it? An accident in the lab. After all, 3M made adhesives — things that stick — and the post-it didn’t stick all that well.
Breakthroughs aren’t always about inventing things. They’re often about the intervention required to notice something new and surprising.
For this to happen, you’ll need to let go of your expectations and assumptions. Not to mention, ideas, concepts, beliefs, paradigms, and dinner plans.
Bottom line, you’ll need to get really curious and allow yourself the luxury of following your curiosity to the ends of the earth.
What pundits typically refer to as “brilliance” is less about IQ or enlightened vision than it is letting your eyes adjust to the available light — so you can see what’s already there.
“I invent nothing,” said Rodin. “I rediscover.”
What failed experiment of yours or unexpected outcome might be worth taking another look at?
Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of “Awake at the Wheel”, as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.