Accidental Business Success is No Accident

I know you have heard that many businesses started by someone making a mistake. While this is true the businesses in question did not start because of the mistake. The people involved saw the “mistake” as an opportunity. I offer the following by way of illustration:

  1. Bourbon
  2. Teflon
  3. Microwave

Whiskey has been with civilized man for ages. The distillation process is basically the same for all grain whiskeys. But it has not always been brown or amber in color. Distilling originated in Kentucky with its first settlers in 1775. Whiskey barrels from the area were marked Old Bourbon when they were shipped downriver from the local port on the Ohio River. According to the Bulleit Distilling Company tour guide, the whiskey produced in Bourbon County was clear. One day the barrel maker for the whiskey experienced a fire in his shop. He shipped out the barrels anyway that were burned, had them filled with bourbon, and shipped to New Orleans. Then, according to Thomas E. Bulleit, who starting the Bulleit Distilling Company in 1987 reviving an old family bourbon recipe, word got back to the distillers that people in New Orleans wanted some more of that brown bourbon. The fire mistake was discovered, the new color verified, and when tasted, a new industry was born.

Teflon was another accidental discovery. Discovered by Roy J. Plunkett at the DuPont Company’s Jackson Laboratory in 1938, Teflon was not what he was trying to do. Plunkett was researching new chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. He stored the gasses in cylinders. When he tried to use one of these cylinders, nothing came out, but the weight was correct. Curious, he cut open the cylinder and found a white powdery substance which was the precursor of Teflon. Plunkett often told his audiences that his mind was prepared by education and training to recognize novelty.

Microwaves for commercial use are relatively new. However, it was during World War II that the shortened wavelengths offered allies the ability to build effective radars to detect incoming aircraft. In 1945 an engineer named Percy Spencer (engineer for Raytheon) was working with a microwave-emitting magnetron. He felt a strange sensation in his pants pocket, almost like cooking event. He surmised that the energy from the magnetron was causing the chocolate bar in his pocket to melt. He experimented with the use of magnetrons in the use of cooking food, and the microwave was born.

Three totally unrelated accidents that have led to multimillion dollar businesses. What did these three accidents have in common, or better yet, what did the three individuals who discovered these accidents have in common?

  1. A curious mind.
  2. Vision to see the possibilities.
  3. Recognition of novelty.

As a small business owner, you need to possess all three of these qualities if you want to stand out and succeed in your business. What accidents have happened to you that could have been the first step in your success?

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