In fact, Fleming’s discovery took place after he left his equipment unwashed and went on holiday for a couple of weeks. When he came back, he found that a strain of the dangerous bacteria “Staphylococcus aureus” which had been growing across a discarded petri dish had been destroyed by an air-borne mould – a type of fungus.
“When I woke up just after dawn on 28 September, 1928,” said Alexander Fleming, “I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world’s first bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”
It turned out that the death-dealing bacteria had been stopped in its tracks by the world’s first antibiotic - which Fleming christened ‘penicillin’.
“It was a triumph of accident, a fortunate occurrence which happened while I was working on a purely academic bacteriological problem”, he later, modestly, commented.
How to encourage happy accidents and avoid unhappy ones:
The question is how can we foster an innovative mindset in our organisations without waiting forever, breaking the bank, risking reputation or sending us down unprofitable rabbit holes?
The challenge for many innovative businesses is building the processes and company cultures that will help them:
- Encourage teams to freely ideate and continually present new ideas
- Support experimentation while learning from mistakes
- Rapidly assess feasibility of competing opportunities
- Choose ideas with the most commercial potential
- Mitigate risks of product failure and/or danger to consumers
- Repeat development success in cycles of continual improvement