The benefits of embracing

happy accidents


Mark Coster

Founder of Pixooma

In business not everything that happens is deliberate, intended or part of a well-researched strategy. Breakthroughs are not always the result of genius. Sometimes your pathway to success can occur thanks to unforeseen events, a fluke, a surprise or fortunate coincidence, aka a happy accident, which in turn leads to new insights and directions. In fact, you have fate to thank for a staggering amount of useful, and in some cases lifesaving, items in your life.

Famous accidental inventions

As ex-boxer Mike Tyson said. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

In 1928, Dr Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin (one of the world's first antibiotics) entirely by chance. He left out cultures of Staphylococcus aureus in a petri dish in his lab for two weeks and returned to find that their growth had been prevented by a mould called Penicillium notatum.

Whilst in 1945, Percy Spencer got the idea for the microwave oven when he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket started to melt while he was studying microwaves for radar technology.

Other famous accidental inventions include post-it notes, Velcro, dynamite, smoke detectors, Warfarin (blood thinner), matches, Coca-Cola, Superglue, the safety pin, Play Doh and the x-ray machine.

Dalliance with serendipity

I’m not saying that my dalliance with serendipity will change anyone’s world, but it does often make my life easier and open up some new options which I had previously not thought about. For example, I might be experimenting with a design layout for a client brochure and accidentally place an element onto the page in a unique way – something I had not done previously. The result is surprising, but in some cases I like it so much that I keep it as part of the final design.

Embrace the unpredictable

Of course in business, having a plan is advisable, I’m not advocating for you getting rid of it and instead relying almost entirely on the unexpected. No, what I’m saying is that sometimes you should just go with the flow and if a happy accident occurs, go with it, if it makes sense. After all isn’t that what true entrepreneurship is all about?

In design terms, I always have a plan. Sketching something out first saves so much pointless fiddling about, which can waste a lot of time and the client’s money. However, I work with a lot of design software and sometimes when you accidentally delete, paste, move or change something as part of the plan, it can look good and often better than what you were intending to originally include.

Don’t get punched in the face

Many businesses still base their innovation on old-school thinking and tried and tested behaviours. That’s why it’s worth remembering that a disruptive idea can change an industry almost overnight. Because as ex-boxer Mike Tyson said. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

In the last few years businesses have been metaphorically, and repeatedly punched in the face. Brexit, pandemic, wars in Ukraine/Syria and the ongoing cost of living crisis are just some of the recent crises which highlight how ‘change’ is the only constant. If ever there was a time when plans are not everything, this could be it.

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