What We Can Learn From Accidental R&D Discoveries

By Jon Fredrickson

Posted on

InnoCentive is now part of Wazoku

When we think of how things are invented and how discoveries are made, we tend to picture scientists toiling away in a laboratory, endless creating and meticulously testing their products until they get it right. We think of Ben Franklin and his hundreds of ways to not create a lightbulb. But innovation, invention and discovery are not always intentional. They aren’t always the result of hours of research, development and testing.

Sometimes they are accidental.

Accidental Discoveries we Can Learn From

Some of the most famous products, many of which are still widely used today, were created through mere chance, including:

    • The microwave: Percy L. Spencer was working with a microwave-emitting magnetron when he accidentally discovered that it had melted the chocolate bar in his pants.
    • X-rays: Wilhelm Roentgen was working with a cathode ray tube when, after he tried to block the rays with his hand, he noticed that he could see his bones.

These were both uses for a certain technology that were discovered when working on an unrelated project in a lab, teaching us that new innovations can come from anywhere, and people who create certain products and new technologies don’t necessarily have to be educated or actively working in the field that the technology is used.

Discoveries can happen at any time and in any place.

Other Accidental Products

A few more known (and more fun) products that were also accidentally discovered include:

    • Play-Doh
    • The Slinky
    • Velcro
    • Super Glue
    • Corn Flakes
    • Sweet’N Low

What Can Innovation Teams Learn From Accidental Discoveries?

There is a lesson to be learned from these accidental inventions and discoveries, but it’s not that things just have to be stumbled upon, nor is it that R&D departments should frivolously try new things until they stumble upon something great. No, the lesson to be learned here is that innovation can come from unexpected places, and the key to success is spreading out your efforts to cover as much ground as possible. The more you do to innovate, the more you will achieve. This much is true, but the main barrier that stops organizations from spreading out their innovation efforts is limited resources — time, money, manpower. Innovation is expensive, and it’s hard to spread your efforts thin and hope for the best.

But there is a better solution.

Crowd Solutions Make This Possible

The main benefits of open innovation come from the crowd. By bringing your innovation issues to the open marketplace, you allow new people with new ideas to take on innovation tasks, all for less money. This opens you up for more innovation at a lower cost and with less allocation of resources. It also allows people from outside your realm of expertise to bring new ideas to the table; many of our client’s successful challenges are solved by people who have degrees outside the applicable fields normally used in the industry.

Stop using resources on old, recycled and tired ideas, and start embracing the crowd. You never know what can happen until you open up your innovation efforts to hundreds of thousands of other people spread out across the world.

Someone’s accidental discovery may be just what your organization has been looking for.

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By Jon Fredrickson

Jon is one of a small handful of experts globally in Open Innovation and connected ecosystems over the last 16 years, the last 3 years with Wazoku, following the InnoCentive acquisition. Jon's experience as an applied innovation futurist has helped his enterprise and government customers insure their success. When not helping clients innovating solutions going to Mars or developing cleaner energy, Jon enjoys family, perfecting smoked foods, and studying history, and ancient civilizations.