In our 4th episode of The Creativity Roots Podcast, we touch on the subject of failure and how we should redefine it in our mind to appreciate it as a way to re-evaluate and reformulate things and use it as an opportunity to learn and develop, as long as we have the right mindset.
Talking about these opportunities where there is a perceived loss there is an interesting list of creations and products that came to life from an “unexpected outcome” or a mistake.
(I will post the information with the relevant source link)
Have you ever wondered where this useful lubricant got its name? The name comes from the fact that the formula represents the 40th attempt to create a degreaser and rust protection solvent. Although it was originally used in the aerospace industry, it became so popular among employees that it was packaged into aerosol cans and introduced to retail in 1958. Can you imagine if the lab had given up after 39 tries?
Interestingly, engineers Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding created bubble wrap in 1960 in an attempt to create a trendy new textured wallpaper. This was a total failure, as was a later attempt to market it as housing insulation. When the wrap was eventually used by IBM to packaging a newly launched computer during transport, it suddenly became an overnight success. Today, few people even realize that bubble wrap began as an abject failure.
Pacemakers used to be huge – the size of televisions. Then Wilson Greatbach made a mistake that revolutionized medicine. When building a heart rhythm recording device, he pulled out the wrong sized resistor and plugged it into the circuit. When it was installed he realized it sounded like a human heartbeat. With some work, he miniaturized the device to two cubic inches. The result was an implantable pacemaker, which has since saved thousands of lives.
Currently, Dyson is one of the top-selling vacuums of all time. However, founder James Dyson’s road to the top was lined with failure. He tested 5,271 prototypes before finally found a vacuum that worked – but even then, he couldn’t find an American or European company to license and manufacture his product. As a result, in 1993, he created his own manufacturing operation. Just two years later, Dyson vacuums were a worldwide sensation, demonstrating that it pays to never give up.
In 1856, dyes were made from natural materials – and 18-year-old chemist William Perkin wasn’t out to change that. Initially, he was focused on creating an artificial version of the malarial drug, quinine. Unfortunately, his experiments weren’t successful, leaving behind a dark, oily sludge. But then, he noticed the sludge turned silk a striking shade of purple – a color more vibrant than he’d seen before. Perkin’s synthetic dye became the hit of the global fashion scene, and his work with dye inspired German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich to pioneer immunology and win a Nobel Prize.
Percy Spencer was experimenting with a new vacuum tube called a magnetron while doing research for the Raytheon Corporation in 1945. He tried another experiment with popcorn when the candy bar in his pocket began to melt. When the popcorn began to pop, Spencer immediately saw the potential in this revolutionary process. In 1947, Raytheon built the Radarange, the first microwave oven, which weighed 750 pounds, was 51/2 feet tall, and cost about $5,000. When the Radarange first became available for home use in the early 1950s, its bulky size and expensive price tag made it unpopular with consumers. But in 1967, a much more popular 100-volt, countertop version was introduced at a price of $495.
The traditional version of this story describes the discovery as a fortuitous accident: in his laboratory in the basement of St. Mary’s Hospital in London, Alexander Fleming noticed a Petri dish containing Staphylococcus that had been mistakenly left open, was contaminated by blue-green mold from an open window, which formed a visible growth. There was a halo of inhibited bacterial growth around the mold. Fleming concluded that the mold released a substance that repressed the growth and caused lysing(breaking down of the membrane of a cell) of the bacteria.
Scientists now suspect that Fleming’s story of the initial discovery of the antibacterial properties of the Penicillium mold is inaccurate. With a modern understanding of how the bacteria and the mold interact, scientists, know that if bacteria were already present on the petri dish they would have inhibited the growth of the mold and Fleming would not have noticed any mold on the plate at all. A more likely story is that a spore from a laboratory one floor below, run by C. J. La Touche, was transferred to Fleming’s petri dish before the bacteria were added. At the time of the initial discovery, La Touche was working with the same mold found in Fleming’s petri dish.
Fleming showed that, if Penicillium rubens were grown in the appropriate substrate, it would exude a substance with antibiotic properties, which he dubbed penicillin.
When a Canon engineer rested his hot iron on his pen by accident, the ink was ejected from the pen’s point a few moments later. This principle led to the creation of the inkjet printer.
On November 8, 1895, German physics professor Wilhelm Röntgen stumbled on X-rays while experimenting with Lenard and Crookes tubes and began studying them.
There are conflicting accounts of his discovery because Röntgen had his lab notes burned after his death, but this is a likely reconstruction by his biographers: Röntgen was investigating cathode rays using a fluorescent screen painted with barium platinocyanide and a Crookes tube which he had wrapped in black cardboard so the visible light from the tube would not interfere. He noticed a faint green glow from the screen, about 1 meter away. Röntgen realized some invisible rays coming from the tube were passing through the cardboard to make the screen glow. He found they could also pass through books and papers on his desk. Röntgen threw himself into investigating these unknown rays systematically. Two months after his initial discovery, he published his paper.
Röntgen discovered its medical use when he made a picture of his wife’s hand on a photographic plate formed due to X-rays. The photograph of his wife’s hand was the first photograph of a human body part using X-rays. When she saw the picture, she said: “I have seen my death.”
In 1879, after a long day of working with coal tar, chemist Constantin Fahlberg came home to have dinner with his wife without washing his hands first. While eating his meal, Fahlberg noticed that everything he put in his mouth had a sweet taste, and discovered that the saccharin on his hands was responsible.
In 1968, scientist Spencer Silver at the 3M company created a very weak adhesive that would peel off when removed from any surface. The funny thing was that he was, in fact, trying to create a super strong adhesive No one thought there was any use for such a product, until another scientist, Art Fry, realized that the little pieces of paper made great bookmarks for his church songs without leaving residue on the page.
This must be the only example in the history of the world where rage benefited the person involved.
In 1853, in a New York restaurant, when a customer complained that the fried potatoes were too soggy and thick, and repeatedly sent them back to the waiter, the chef- George Crum- got so fed up, that he took the request for a thinner potato quite literally- he cut the potatoes into thin slices, fried them, and covered them in salt. And, Voila! The most favorite snack in the world was born!
While serving as a lieutenant colonel, John Pemberton, who was a pharmacist, was wounded. He got addicted to the morphine used to ease the pain. he began experimenting with coca and coca wines for opium-free alternatives, eventually creating his own version of Vin Mariani, containing kola nut and damiana, which he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.
Relying on Atlanta druggist Willis Venable to test and help him perfect the recipe for the beverage- which he formulated by trial and error- it eventually included blending the base syrup with carbonated water by accident when trying to make another glass. Pemberton decided then to sell it as a fountain drink rather than a medicine.
While Ruth Wakefield stated that she deliberately invented the cookie, a different version of events says that Wakefield is said to have been making chocolate cookies and on running out of regular baker’s chocolate, substituted broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate from Nestlé thinking that they would melt and mix into the batter.
A still different history of the cookie derives from George Boucher, who was at one time head chef at the Toll House Inn, saying that said that the vibrations from a large electric mixer dislodged bars of Nestlé’s chocolate stored on the shelf above the mixer which caused the chocolate to fall into the sugar cookie dough mixing below. He claims to have overcome Wakefield’s impulse to discard the dough as too badly ruined to waste effort baking them, leading to the discovery of this delicious recipe.
Richard Jones, a naval engineer, was trying to create a meter designed to monitor power on naval battleships. While working with tension springs of them fell to the ground. The spring kept bouncing from place to place after it hit the ground, and the slinky was born.
A cook accidentally mixed together charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter – common kitchen items 2000 years ago. When the mixture was compressed in a bamboo tube (why the cook did that we have no idea), it exploded.
I hope you enjoy this list, if you know of other products or even fortunate situations, like for example, the inspiring story of Colonel Sanders from KFC, which came out of a life of struggle and failure, please share it with all of us.
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