"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Today, I have picked up a new phrase, while surfing the net for 'killer innovations'.

It's 'Creative Failure Methodology'. In a nut shell, it involves the concept of "embracing failure" with the "trials & errors" or "hard knocks" approach.

One author wrote about "creative accidents". Another, about "planned serendipity".

The surfing led me to a belated blogpost by creativity expert Michael Michalko on the Amazon website.

He related that the term was first described by physicist William Shockey, who was credited for the invention of the transistor in the mid-40's, which introduced the world to the Electronic Age. [As a result, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956 with two of his colleagues.]

This is what William Shockley and a multi-disciplinary Bell Labs team did. They were formed to invent the MOS transistor and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the new science of semiconductor physics.

These developments eventually led to the MOS transistor and then to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers.

William Shockley described it as a process of “creative failure methodology.” In fact, he commented further:

"A basic truth that the history of the creation of the transistor reveals is that the foundations of transistor electronics were created by making errors & following hunches that failed to give what was expected."

John Wesley Hyatt, an Albany printer and mechanic, worked long and hard trying to find a substitute for billiard-ball ivory, then coming into short supply. He invented, instead, celluloid— the first commercially successful plastic.

Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant. Instead, he created a glob of white waxy material that conducted heat and did not stick to surfaces.

Fascinated by this “unexpected” material, he abandoned his original line of research and experimented with this interesting material, which eventually became known by its household name, “Teflon.”

The author gave an interesting corollary:

"In principle, the unexpected event that gives rise to a creative invention is not all that different from the unexpected automobile breakdown that forces us to spend a night in a new and interesting town, the book sent to us in error that excites our imagination, or the closed restaurant that forces us to explore a different cuisine. But when looking for ideas or creative solutions, many of us ignore the unexpected and, consequently, loose the opportunity to turn chance into a creative opportunity."

I recall that corporate strategist Tom Peters once called it "unplanned interruptions" as a prelude to entrepreneurial discoveries.

So, well-known behavioural scientist B.F. Skinner was right when he advised people that "whenever you are working on something and find something interesting, drop everything else and study it".

Come to think about it, I reckon, "Creative Failure Methodology" is, in some ways, analogous to the 'Intelligent Fast Failure' methodology put forward by innovation educator Jack Matson. I have written about it in this weblog.

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