Innovation can be found anywhere

Sara DoucetteBlog

Innovation can be found anywhere

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Some of the things that we now take for granted have been discovered by accident. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

The slinky – During WW2, navy engineer Richard James was trying to find a way of using springs on navy ships, to keep sensitive instruments from bumping around. He dropped one on the floor and was amused by the way it bounced. Now it’s a silly but ubiquitous toy – who hasn’t had one?

Vulcanized rubber – Charles Goodyear was trying to make rubber resistant to heat and cold. Accidentally he spilled rubber, sulphur and lead onto a stove. The mixture melted and charred but was still usable.

Like these, there are many more cases. Watch this fun video for some more entertaining stories on accidental discoveries:


More recently, we have found a very interesting article on Fortune Magazine, on how looking far beyond your industry can also lead to some interesting ‘accidental’ discoveries. Basically, if you are searching for a solution for a problem, someone else might already have it, even is it was developed for an entirely different purpose. As an example, it is mentioned that PepsiCo was looking for an alternative to sodium, that was found in the form of a new technique developed by osteoporosis researchers. This solution consisted in nanoparticles of a low-sodium, salt-like substance obtained  by “smashing calcium into tiny particles and re-growing it”. Who would have thought it?

The difference between those 20th century adaptations and these contemporary ones is that previously the discovery was merely accidental and depended on someone having a “Eureka!” moment. The latter, relies on using the power of open innovation for finding solutions. How does it work? According to Andy Zynga, CEO of innovation firm NineSigma, it’s all up to the way we frame the challenges:

“State the problem in its most basic form,” (…)“lets you cast a very wide net, so you can find workable solutions in places you might never have thought of looking,”

By working with a network of companies, university labs and nonprofits, word can easily be spread out and discover an answer to any given challenge. This is a perfect example of how open innovation is an excellent vehicle for technological progress and shows how we can all benefit from applying it to our problem solving.

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