I love hearing stories about how big ideas came to be. It turns out that, oftentimes, world-changing innovations weren’t the result of an isolated epiphany or the effortless insights of a genius. They were accidents.
The technology blog Gizmodo recently told the story of the “10 Greatest (Accidental) Inventions of All Time.”
My favorite involves one of the most ubiquitous gadgets in the world: the microwave. According to Gizmodo, the microwave came about when Navy engineer Percy Spencer was working with a microwave-emitting magnetron (then used in radar arrays) and “found that a chocolate bar in his pocket had started to melt.” He deduced that the microwaves were to blame, and used the principle to create the popcorn-popping device we all rely on today.
Play-Doh also has a great origin story. It was originally marketed as a substance for cleaning spots off of wallpaper. It wasn’t until children began using it to create Christmas ornaments that it caught on as a toy.
This just goes to show that, as I often contend, ideas can come from anywhere. As someone in the ideas business, it’s good to be reminded of how often good ideas can blindside you.
It’s for this reason that, when it comes to managing creative individuals, I find it best to set some basic rules, and get out of their way. You need to create a space where wild ideas can be aired and accidents happen.