You might be surprised to learn that the microwave, Sweet’n Low, the Slinky, Play-Doh, Super Glue, the pacemaker, and a new shade of blue all have something in common: they were each invented by accident. For example, chemist Ira Remsen discovered saccharin (the artificial sweetener in Sweet’n Low) because he forgot to wash his hands between a chemical experiment and lunch time. In another instance, Navy engineer Richard James was using springs to stabilize naval equipment when a prototype fell off of the table and righted itself with mesmerizing ease; that prototype would soon be known as the Slinky. These happy accidents can be attributed to serendipity, or, finding valuable or enjoyable things that are not looked for. When it comes to creativity and innovation, a serendipitous moment can often be the answer to a question you hadn’t thought to ask.
"A seemingly straightforward task evolves into what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. It is important to take a step back and remember that one of the best creative strategies – serendipity - cannot be planned or even executed on purpose."
Take the recent (2009) discovery of a new blue pigment by Oregon State University’s Mas Subramanian and a team of researchers. They were attempting to develop new materials to use in electronics, but what the group stumbled upon instead has implications for artists and scientists alike. They mixed black manganese oxide with a few other chemicals and heated them in a furnace at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. What came out was a previously unseen, vividly blue pigment. The color itself is beautiful, but it also has some unique chemical properties. This particular pigment – now called YInMN for its elemental components - is extremely durable and non-toxic, two characteristics previously unseen in any other blue pigment. These unique qualities are important to note because they open the door to the possibility of new spectrum of safer and more durable pigments for commercial and industrial use. Aesthetically speaking, a beautiful color that does not fade is of great value to individuals in all areas of the art and design industries. From a scientific viewpoint, although Subramanian and co. did not find exactly what they were looking for, the YInMN pigment is now being used as a coating in a variety of electronics and even has potential to be used in energy efficient housing.
It’s not every day that a person gets to see and experience a brand new color. For that reason alone, OSU’s discovery is of interest to anyone; but to all who make a living by creativity and innovation, a serendipitous discovery like YInMN is both exciting and encouraging. It is frighteningly easy to get so hung up on being innovative that the creative process just stops. A seemingly straightforward task evolves into what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. It is important to take a step back and remember that one of the best creative strategies – serendipity - cannot be planned or even executed on purpose. Serendipitous discoveries like YInMN serve as reminders to everyone that there is always value in in focused research and development, but many of life’s toughest questions are answered when you least expect it.
Written By Emma Kinney
Emma Kinney is and intern at Sproute Creative and student at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. She will be completing her undergraduate degree in Communication and Business in December of 2016. She expects to leave with a B.A. in Communication. She plans on starting her Master's Degree in the spring of 2017 with a focus Professional Communication.