Corn flakes were born (1894) when the Kellogg brothers inadvertently left a pot of boiled wheat overnight on a stove. They passed the flaky dough through bread rollers and baked the flakes to create a crunchy snack.
The Penicillin mold was discovered (1928) by Sir Alexander Fleming, who, upon returning from a vacation, saw a Petri dish that he had left behind without disinfecting. That Petri dish had a zone around an invading fungus where his Staphylococcus bacterium culture had not grown. A mold spore from another lab in the building had accidentally fallen on this culture. The spore had grown while Fleming was away. Rather than throw the dirty Petri dish away, he isolated the mold and identified it as belonging to the Penicillium genus, which kills bacteria by inhibiting new cell walls.
The microwave oven was invented (1945) unintentionally during an experiment by Percy Spencer of Raytheon Corporation. Electromagnetic waves from a new vacuum tube melted a chocolate bar in his pocket while standing next to a magnetron.
Viagra had been developed (1989) as the chemical compound sildenafil citrate to treat hypertension and angina pectoris. Researchers found during the first phase of clinical trials that the compound was good for something else. It was approved for medical use in 1998.
Serendipity is a rich idea that is very central to the creative process. Lots of ideas evolve when you’re working on something unrelated. Physiologist Julius H. Comroe Jr. once said, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.”
Idea for Impact: Creativity is a disorderly journey. Much of the time, you may never get where you’re going. You may never find what you hope to find. Yet still, you must stay open to the new and the unexpected.
Explore how to transform serendipitous ‘mistakes’ into breakthroughs.