The Myth of Post-it Notes and Other Serendipitous Inventions: Why Pure Chance is Not Your Creative Friend

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October 19, 2020
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The Myth of Post-it Notes and Other Serendipitous Inventions: Why Pure Chance is Not Your Creative Friend

Chocolate chip cookies, penicillin, Velcro, microwave ovens, the game of basketball, and Post-It Notes.

What do they have in common?

Well, those products were invented completely by chance.

Does it mean great ideas are born out of serendipity?

Not quite.

Serendipity as a successful method of innovation is just a myth. It is relevant, true. But creating products by chance is far from innovative.

 

Why Serendipity is Relevant

 

The number of serendipitous products that have been invented in the world versus those that were non-serendipitous is actually very tiny. Hence, the track record of serendipity in terms of creating new products is poor. But why is it so relevant? 

  1. They’re often reported in the media. 

Journalists love to report unique products invented by pure chance. And because we’re so used to seeing and hearing about these in the media, we think there must be thousands of them but it’s not true. 

  1. Our view is completely distorted about this success rate of serendipity. 

Products invented by chance that have failed in the market never saw the light of day. We never read about those in the media so we didn’t get the chance to evaluate them and how the successful products stacked up against the failed ones. 

  1. It probably happened to you. 

There were probably some moments in your life when, all of a sudden, you came up with wonderful ideas. It’s happened to everyone and it’s happened to you so it’s natural for us to think that serendipity has a great track record when in fact, it really doesn’t.

 

Should You Rely on Chance When Inventing New Products?

 

You can’t really rely on chance when you want to invent new products. Instead, you’re going to be much better off if you proactively use a method of creativity that you can rely on – something you know will provide results. 

With a method like Systematic Inventive Thinking or the SIT method, the odds are so much higher because you’re using a systematic method compared to serendipity where you only rely on chance.

To hear more on the myth of serendipitous innovations, listen to the full podcast episode here: Episode 012: The Myth of Post-It Notes and Other Serendipitous Inventions: Why Pure Chance is Not Your Creative Friend