When I talk to inventors about how they arrived at their inventions, it’s no secret that serendipity plays a vital role in how inventions are created. Thus raised my interest in serendipitous inventions, so let’s understand the mechanisms of serendipity and how to optimize its impact.

Examples of serendipity in science

Some of the most important discoveries in science have been serendipitous. They were the result of mistakes in research. And they led to other important discoveries. In fact, some scientists design their experiments to increase the chance of serendipity.

Consider the following serendipitous inventions:

  • Poliomyelitis vaccine preparations were changed to African monkeys after an outbreak of measles in Indian monkeys. Levine was then able to identify the p53 tumor suppressor gene ( Meyers 2007, p. 161).
  • Daguerre spent many years trying to get photographic images from iodized silver plates. Then he placed the plates in a chemical cabinet overnight, and the mercury fumes accidentally created a perfect image (Box 256 Roberts 1989, p. 49).
  • Richet discovered, while searching for threshold doses for various poisons to induce sensitization, that he could do so to a toxic substances. This led him to develop understanding of allergies. In his Nobel Prize acceptance, Richet said that it was not the result of deep thought but of simple observation, almost accidental ( Roberts 1989, p.125).
  • Elrich discovered Salvarsan from an incredible focus on chemotherapy (where chemicals might kill specific pathogens selectively). Salvarsan was 606th preparation. The 605 that preceded it had gone through their own experiments without success (Box 424 Meyers 2007, p.62).

The role of serendipity in science is complex. It can have a positive or negative effect. Sometimes, it can lead to a game changing effect. But, it also depends on the individual’s perspective.

Many serendipitous discoveries in science have been extremely exciting. However, there are also some cases in which the effects are not very beneficial. For instance, serendipitous discoveries have led to the invention of penicillin, Teflon, dynamite, and Kevlar.

Some scientists claim that up to fifty percent of scientific discoveries are serendipitous. Others estimate that the percentage is even higher. What is more, many experts agree that there are certain factors that increase the chances of a serendipitous discovery.

Researchers have developed a model to analyze the role of serendipity in science. This model outlines the process by which a person creates a new connection. To do this, the participant must take advantage of the opportunity presented.

There are several triggers that can enhance serendipity. These include a person’s personal characteristics and the environment. Often, the person exploits the connection in order to get a valuable outcome.

Moreover, the timing of the outcome can influence its value. For example, a serendipitous discovery that occurs during a conference might lead to an idea for a better search system. Depending on the individual’s perspective, this might be a pleasant surprise or a challenging challenge.

One type of serendipity is called pseudo-serendipity. This is when a person finds something that he or she was trying to find in a particular way. An example of this is the search for marginalia in the 15th century.

Another form of serendipity is called incidental information acquisition. This occurs when an object is encountered without a purpose. Examples of this include a buckyball being missed by a researcher. The overall importance of serendipity in science is largely dependent on the person’s perspective. It can affect not only the field, but also the organization.

Optimising serendipity

A little research goes a long way, and this article isn’t about to covert the lion’s share of your time and your hard earned money. Having said that, you will likely be enlisted in the fraternity of tycoons by the time your reading is done. After all, you are probably at the top of your game. You might as well make the best of it.

The good news is, you will be the first on the list. Those who have been suckered into the pits of excitement can expect some hefty repairs. Of course, there’s no telling, unless you make the mistake of letting your tycoons off. And the good news is you can make the most of it. The bad news is that you are not alone.

Mechanisms of serendipity

One of the most fun and exciting aspects of science is serendipity. This is a phenomenon in which an individual seeks out solutions to problems. In turn, it allows for the creation of new and exciting inventions, innovations, and discoveries. Some researchers estimate that up to 50% of scientific discoveries are serendipitous. Serendipity abounds in our world today, as a recent ACM paper demonstrates.

It’s hard to imagine how some of the most important and exciting advances in science and technology were made without serendipity. The discovery of penicillin was serendipitous. Other examples of serendipitous scientific feats include the discovery of anesthesia, the discovery of the universal law of gravitation, and the invention of the x-ray.

Serendipity is a byproduct of the human brain’s ability to process information. However, it is difficult to define how and where such a process works.  Researchers and scientists have devised numerous methods to increase the odds of serendipity.

While some believe that serendipity is a function of luck, it isn’t. For example, a person with an interest in a particular topic might have the necessary background knowledge to realize its importance, but the corresponding process is nigh impossible to replicate. Scientists are therefore actively designing experiments and creating conditions that allow for serendipity.

Having said that, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the phenomenon. Among other things, it’s important to realize that the most successful serendiptous discoveries often result from mistakes.

So, if you are one of the few lucky individuals to have been fortunate enough to stumble upon something of importance, make sure you are not in a hurry to act on it. Otherwise, your serendipity will be snuffed out before it can reach its full potential.

Another useful way to increase your chances of serendipity is to make sure you know how to properly use the toilet. Serendipity is a tricky nut to crack, but it’s a worthwhile exercise. Besides, having the right attitude can lead to better results overall.

Clearly, there are many factors that determine whether or not a serendipitous outcome will occur. However, the most important factor is not the mechanism itself. Rather, it’s the motivation of the individuals involved in the process.

Social interactions facilitate the exposure of new ideas

If you have encountered someone with whom you had a good relationship, you probably had a serendipitous encounter. Such encounters may be triggered by social interactions. Moreover, repeated encounters with a person can provide you with new opportunities for collaboration.

In this study, we studied the factors that promote and prevent serendipitous social encounters. In this way, we aimed to understand the entire serendipitous social encounter process. The findings of the study have implications for designing information systems that facilitate serendipity.

We focused on three types of contexts. These contexts are the internal, external, and social contexts. Each of these contexts affects the social serendipity process. Some of the contexts are: The internal context refers to the person’s personal status, emotional state, and experiences. External contexts are environmental and temporal factors.

The majority of respondents reported having a positive experience when engaging in a social interaction. They also found the interaction comfortable. Additionally, they identified similarities in personality. This is a major component of a serendipitous social encounter. However, this does not mean that each encounter was a positive experience.

The survey questions included demographic details, attitudes toward technology, and general social networking practices. Also, it included open-ended questions on serendipitous social encounters and their ICT enhanced outcomes.

A serendipitous social encounter is characterized by proactive sense-making, active follow-up, and commitment from both actors. Several triggers, including social interactions, may stimulate this experience. It can be initiated through unsought encounters, or through a socially-open mood.

But despite its positive impact, it can take some time to realize its value. Thus, it’s important to engage in social interactions that stimulate serendipity. For instance, a workplace can be a great environment for serendipity.

Over-estimation of serendipity

Serendipity and inventions are often considered to be synonymous, though serendipity is not. Rather, serendipity may emerge as a result of errors or from technological development activities. However, these are only two of the many potential sources.

One way to distinguish between serendipity and inventions is to examine the characteristics of the field. For example, a researcher searching for a solution to a particular problem is likely to face obstacles that might detract from the prospect of finding a solution. These might include pressures to publish or to pursue a less-than-optimal unit strategy.

In this scenario, the distribution of serendipity could be more important than its overall prevalence. Similarly, a research collaboration is more likely to experience groupthink effects, which can inhibit serendipity.

Other factors that might limit the prevalence of serendipity are network influences and methodological deviations. Networks are a crucial component in the process of discovery, bringing new discoveries to researchers and promoting teamwork. But networks can also discourage serendipity by generating echo chambers and groupthink effects.

There are four primary mechanisms of serendipity. Some of them are error-borne, while others are theory-led. The characteristics of the field and the attributes of the observer and the situation also play a role.

Typically, serendipity occurs when a new discovery displaces an earlier problem. For instance, a researcher searching for a solution in the area of physiology could find a treatment for cancer. On the other hand, a researcher looking for a solution to the problem of a cardiac pacemaker might discover a solution for an irregular heartbeat.

Although it can be difficult to assess how widespread serendipity is in a given research program, there are instances where it is apparent. One of these is the development of a microwave oven. When a device was developed to treat an irregular heartbeat, a developer accidentally grabbed a resistor from the wrong place, simulating the heartbeat.

As a consequence, the discovery of a solution to a targeted problem is sometimes displaced by the introduction of a completely different problem. This could happen during a collaborative effort where a large number of investigators are searching in the same space.

John Walker never applied for a patent for matchsticks

Inventor John Walker never applied for a patent on his friction matchsticks. Rather, he sold his invention to a solicitor in Stockton-on-Tees. It wasn’t until his death in 1859 that the credit for inventing the matches went to him.

Walker made his first match in 1826. His recipe for the “Friction Lights” was made of gum arabic, potassium chlorate and antimony sulfide. He dipped the stick in the mixture, then scraped it against a rough surface. The dried blob at  the end of the stick ignited.

After Walker’s death, his business was taken over by Sir Isaac Holden. As a result, his matches were distributed around the world. While not patented, they were widely accepted as the match.

Percy Spencer’s inventions melted a chocolate bar in his pocket

Percy Spencer, a self-taught engineer and inventor, invented the first microwave oven. He was also a key figure in World War II, producing large amounts of radar equipment. His invention was crucial to the war effort, and his company, Raytheon, now produces 80 percent of magnetron tubes used by radar systems.

In the early 1940s, Percy Spencer was researching radar and the technology behind it. It was during this time that he realized that the magnetic field of the magnetron would generate microwaves. The new vacuum tube that Percy Spencer was testing was called a magnetron. He experimented with different foods that he placed in the magnetron’s metal box.

One of the foods that Percy Spencer experimented with was popcorn. When he fired up the vacuum tube, the corn kernels popped into fluffy popcorn. Another food that Percy Spencer experimented with included a raw egg. However, he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted when he put the egg in front of the magnetron.

Later, Percy Spencer became a top-flight expert in vacuum tube design. At one point, he was able to make working tubes from sardine cans. Throughout his career, Percy Spencer gained a total of 300 patents. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Massachusetts, a Distinguished Public Service Award from the U.S. Navy, and was a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. A building named after Spencer is now located at the Raytheon Missile Defense Center in Woburn, Massachusetts.

 How to Patent Serendipitous Inventions

If you have come up with a serendipitous invention that you think others would find useful, then you have a few choices as far as patenting it goes. First, you can file a provisional patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  

To save money, you can file a provisional patent application, and within one year, you can convert the utility provisional application to a utility non-provisional patent application which will be examined and if allowable, become a full-fledged patent. 

You can also consider design patent applications for new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.  In general terms, a “utility patent” protects the way an article is used and works (35 U.S.C. 101), while a “design patent” protects the way an article looks (35 U.S.C. 171). The ornamental appearance for an article includes its shape/configuration or surface ornamentation applied to the article, or both.