Finding and Applying Serendipitous Innovations

Finding and Applying Serendipitous InnovationsInnovation is all around us, and if you see it, observe and learn from it so that you can use the idea elsewhere. A classic example of serendipity or success after failure is the story of 3M Post-it notes. In 1974, Stephen Silver at 3M research laboratories was trying to develop a strong adhesive and instead created a new adhesive that was not too strong, could stick on all surfaces and be removed easily without causing damage or leaving residue. Not knowing what to make of this, it was four years later that his colleague Art Fry came up with the idea to use this “low tack” adhesive to attach a bookmark to his hymnal. He further developed the concept, and 3M launched what became known as Post-it notes nationwide.

Another example of a serendipitous innovation is the case of Mr. Goodyear when he accidently burned his experiment and created galvanized rubber used in tires. This discovery is often cited as one of history’s most celebrated “accidents”, although it took the inventor’s clever inference and steadfast perseverance to develop the product.

Look at failures or “Learning Experiences”, and look around you to see what innovative use or application can be used for your own competitive advantage and differentiation. On a recent trip I observed the following innovations – they are all around us. See what you can do with these creative new experiences to use or apply elsewhere:

Finding and Applying Serendipitous Innovations

  • DHL canal boats in Amsterdam used for picking up and delivering packages. At first glance, I thought it was a great method of advertising, but the boats are actually a more time efficient delivery vehicle through the Amsterdam canals than any delivery truck.
  • Using the iPad and FaceTime to have your partner join you for dinner while traveling
  • eTickets for trains (used to be paper only)
  • A mobile version of the successful London Eye Ferris wheel as a temporary attraction
  • Highway speeds set for 130km/hour normally and 110km/hour when wet

The list of these types of crafty innovations goes on and on. More importantly, look around you and see how you should apply the ten types of innovation to your own ideas: Process, Delivery, Branding and Product.

When it comes to innovation, don’t get left behind and always remember – if you don’t do it, somebody else will.


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robert brandsRobert Brands is the founder of, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival,” with Martin Kleinman – published Spring 2010 by Wiley (

Robert F Brands




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