Saturday, August 23, 2014

Accidental Innovation... Any takers?

Of course, there are takers! After all who cares? An innovation that happens by accident is just as good as an innovation that was carefully, deliberately, meticulously, and painfully thought out and executed. The reality is, as I had discussed in my book, Living in the Innovation Age (TekNirvana, 2011), that errors are the lifeblood of innovation. History is full of examples of innovations that were the result of accidents and errors. Alexander Fleming discovered the virtues of penicillin when mold accidentally contaminated a culture of Staphylococcus (i.e. Staph) he had left by an open window in his lab. Think of how many lives have been saved because of that one accident. Modern electronics owe their existence to a few errors as well, a few of which ultimately led to the creation of the vacuum tube. In fact, it is said that when Lee De Forest first invented the vacuum tube even he did not completely understand why it worked!

So, you might be wondering why all of a sudden I am writing a blog on this topic. The blame squarely lies on a recent article I read in Businessweek that discussed a Nanogenerator that can recharge a device with a jostle, swipe, or tap. The one millimeter thick, transparent nanogenerator converts mechanical energy (or movement) into electricity. An obvious (and very lucrative) application would be to incorporate such a nanogenerator into a cell phone case/cover, which would continuously charge your cell phone as you were using it and even as it bounced around in your pocket. The kicker is that the innovator, Professor Wang at the Georgia Institute of Technology, had been working on a new charging technology for several years. The big breakthrough, though, came as the result of a sloppily pasted model by one of his students. The "erroneous gap" in the model, due to the sloppy work, actually boosted the current output! Hmm, I wonder what grade the student got...

The Bottom Line
Yes, many innovations have been the result of well-thought out and deliberate actions. However, history (and as the example above illustrates, even the present day) is chock full of stories of amazing innovations starting out as a side-effect or even an accident. Of course, by no means am I suggesting that anyone throw all caution to the wind, but at the same time don’t be afraid of making mistakes… embrace them for you never know which one of those errors might sow the seeds to the next groundbreaking, game changing innovation!