Breakthroughs are not always the result of genius. Often, they are a result of what we call “happy accidents” — unforeseen events that lead to new insights.
Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he accidentally left an uncleaned petri dish in his lab at night and saw that a strange kind of fungus had developed. Percy Spencer got the idea for the microwave oven when he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket started to melt while he was studying microwaves for radar technology. Superglue started as a very irritating and sticky by-product of research into the application of transparent plastic firearms sights on WWII weapons.
A lot of organisations still base their innovation on old-school thinking. They ask to get a calculated promise on the money that will be made from investing in innovative products. But in the real world where a disruptive idea can change an industry almost overnight, such thinking is futile.
Fertile soil for innovation
The most innovative companies combine high alignment of purpose with high autonomy for teams in their organizational culture. They also tend to organize common lunches or weekly social activities that bring together people with different backgrounds into random conversations that result in new ideas. Ideas that may be worth working some more investigation.
Learn to fail
Breakthroughs often rely on the open-mindedness of innovators to notice something new, unexpected, and intriguing. Innovation usually happens where teams have the autonomy to try new things. Where daring to fail is seen as a good thing. To capture these ‘mistakes’ it is recommended to have some sort of registering protocol, to catalogue and preserve the remarkable ‘misses’ if they do not get an immediate follow-up.
Search for surprises
At creax, we believe in the power of cross-industry research. After defining the function we want our innovative solution to provide, we start a broad research phase where we’re looking at how similar problems have been solved in other sectors. Can we learn something about vacuum cleaners by studying industrial extraction hoods? Or maybe we can adapt shaving technology and use it in a new lawnmower?
This extensive research brings together a wide range of topics, inspiring us to establish new links between previously separate components. Not happy accidents per se. But a good way to break through the limitations of your current research and spot some surprising correlations.
Be open to what comes your way. We must be willing to stumble onto solutions that we hadn’t intended in our search for innovation.
Get out of your comfort zone. You will fail, but it might be a brilliant mistake.