History is replete with events that have shaped the course of human life. Some of those events were calculated and deliberate with known and expected outcomes. Whereas there are some that were calculated and deliberate but led to amazing and unexpected discoveries. You can classify them as mistakes; only that they actually brought about great good. In this article, I will discuss some of the most famous products that came to be by mistake. You will be stunned to see some of them as you might have never imagined they were results of mistakes. A life lesson to extract from that dynamic is that mistakes are or can be turning points that lead to great outcomes.
A certain soldier by the name John Pemberton was injured. He then used morphine to relieve the pain but in the process got addicted to the morphine. Later on, he started using coca or coca wines rather than morphine – the rationale being that they do not contain opium. As time went on he made a drink including damiana and kola nut. The experiments went on up until a time carbonated water was added as an ingredient. Now, the addition of carbonated water was purely a mistake since it first happened as he was trying to mix up another glass for himself. You must understand that all this while John Pemberton was doing all this to deal with the pain from his injury. Upon mistakenly adding carbonated water, he then decided to start selling it as a beverage instead. That is how Coca Cola was birthed.
Most of you are familiar with Kellogg corn flakes right? Well, it all started with Dr John Kellogg many years ago. He worked with his brother championing healthy living lifestyles. One interesting item they would make was an alternative for coffee that was caffeine-free. In making it part of the process would be to actually cook wheat. It so happened that one day as they were doing so they got preoccupied with other things and the wheat got stale. Since after cooking it they would normally put it through rollers they decided to proceed anyway. In so doing they noticed that the wheat dough was coming out as thin flakes (normally they would come out as long sheets). Fascinated by the unexpected result they put the thin flakes in the oven and that is how corn flakes were born.
In the 1960s there was a scientist by the name Spencer Silver. He was in the process of experimenting to come up with a strong glue. He did not manage to but instead came up with a very loose sticking glue. Seeing that there was no particular use for this type of glue it was another scientist called Art Fry who noticed that the glue could be used on tiny pieces of paper to bookmark his church songs. That is how post-it notes came to be.
Picture this scenario: someone enters a restaurant and orders fried potatoes. The order comes and they complain about how mushy and thick they are. The customer is so annoyed that they several times tell the waiter to bring better ones. The chef, obviously frustrated, decides to chop the potatoes into very thin units. He then fries and salts them. Just like that, the famous potato chips came to life. This incident happened at a restaurant in the USA more than a century ago.
A chemist over a century ago was one day in his lab doing some work involving coal tar (which has saccharin). He so engrossed in it that he spent all day working till late into the night. Upon knocking off he was so hungry that he did not think of washing his hands. As he was eating he was surprised to note that everything was having a sweet taste. After some reflection, it dawned on him that the saccharin was the one causing all that. That is how the idea of artificial sweeteners came about.
The famous scientist, Alexander Fleming, one day forgot to close a petri dish that had Staphylococcus. Due to that it became contaminated by a mould (blue-green in colour) – there was a growth that could be seen with the naked eye. Interestingly, Fleming noticed that there was a film around the mould indicating a stop of any further growth of the bacteria. Fleming’s conclusion was that it was the mould that had emitted a substance that stopped the growth. That substance is what went on to be the famous Penicillin.
This one is pretty simple how it happened. One day an engineer at the printer company, Canon, mistakenly placed a hot iron on a pen. Surprisingly he noticed that the pen released ink a little while later through its writing end. From that simple incident, the concept of an inkjet printer was birthed.
I just thought to talk about just 7 products but there are several more. Remember it is not every mistake that is bad; some are breakthroughs to world-changing discoveries. It also teaches the importance of being observant at all times – great insights can come from the most unlikely of places or incidents.