Serendipitous innovations: discovering what makes one thing special and applying it elsewhere
Georges de Mestral in 1941 went out to walk his dog in the woods and noticed how the burrs clung to him and his dog (Bellis, 2016; Suddath, 2010). De Mestral was curious enough to study these burrs under a microscope and from that he wanted to recreate it (Bellis, 2016). It took eight years of trial and error to create a synthetic burr that had tiny hooks, that would grip to a cloth full of tiny loops and the names of those two cloths “velvet” and “crochet” were combined to form Velcro (Bellis, 2016; Suddath, 2010). Velcro was made to rival the zipper (Bellis, 2016). Velcro had its big break when it was used by NASA in the 1960s Apollo mission, then hospitals began to use them, then the military, and now it’s used on planes, cars, shoes, home décor, etc. (Suddath, 2010).
Exaptation innovations: Never giving up, finding secondary uses for the same product, and not being afraid to pivot when needed
The mixture of flour, water, salt, boric acid and mineral oil was first originally used as a reusable soup product to help clean wallpaper as part of the Kutol company (Biddle, 2012; Hiskey, 2015; Wonderopolis, n.d.). Hiskey (2015), chronicles that in 1933 Noah McVicker and Cleo McVicker created the doughy substance because at that time wallpaper couldn’t get wet. However, the lack of toxic chemicals made it an ideal to become the toy it is today (Hiskey, 2015; Wonderopolis, n.d.). This pivot from wallpaper cleaner to toy occurred when teachers began to use this product for a molding compound to make art for craft projects in school (Hiskey, 2015; The Strong, n.d.; Wonderopolis, n.d.). When, the inventor’s nephew, Joe McVicker, eventually came into the Kutol Company and noticed this secondary use of their product, and thought it would be good to rename the product “Play-Doh” and marketed it to schools (Biddle, 2012; The Strong, n.d.; Wonderopolis, n.d.).
Erroneous innovations: Creating something by accident in the pursuit of something else
Two chemists in 1879 were working in the Lab at John Hopkins University, where one of them got hungry and forgot to wash his hands (Hicks, 2010; Smallwood, 2014). Constantin Fahlberg didn’t die from this, which could have happened, but noticed that the chemical saccharin (C7H5NO3S) which he and his peer created made his food taste sweet (Hicks, 2010). He created the Artificial sweetener that is now used in the “Sweet’n Low” pink packets; that is 300x sweeter than cane sugar and cheaper to produce (Hicks, 2010; Smallwood, 2014). In 1884, Constatin patented the chemical saccharin without his co-inventor and set up a production shop in New York City (Hicks, 2010). In the 1970s a saccharin scare was created stating it was empty calories and harmful to the health of the consumer, the first part of the claim was substantiated, but the second claim has never been vetted with evidence, and in 2000 it was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program list of carcinogenic chemicals (Smallwood, 2014). From this erroneous innovation, aspartame in 1965 a chemical 200x sweeter than sugar and sucralose in 1976 that is 600x sweeter than sugar was created (Hicks, 2010).
- Bellis, M. (2016). Who invented Velcro? Retrieved from http://inventors.about.com/od/famousinventions/fl/Who-Invented-Velcro.htm
- Biddle, S. (2012). The 10 greatest (accidental) inventions of all time. NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38870091/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/greatest-accidental-inventions-all-time/#.WAu7ZPkrLIU
- Hicks, J. (2010). The pursuit of sweet. Retrieved from https://www.chemheritage.org/distillations/article/pursuit-sweet
- Hiskey, D. (2015). The shocking story behind Playdoh’s original purpose. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/the-shocking-story-behind-playdohs-original-purpose-2015-9
- Smallwood, K. (2014). The accidental discovery of saccharin, and the truth about whether saccharin is bad for you. Retrieved from http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/05/saccharin-discovered-accident/
- Suddath, C. (2010). A brief history of: Velcro. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1996883,00.html
- The Strong (n.d.) National toy hall of fame. Retrieved from http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/play-doh
- Wonderopolis (n.d.) Who invented play dough? Retrieved from http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/who-invented-play-dough