Accident or Innovation? It Depends.
Robert Austin, Lee Devin and Erin Sullivan of The Wall Street Journal interviewed innovators in fields from manufacturing and fine art and came up with these recommendations for how to encourage accidents that may lead to future innovations. Their prescription includes periodically mixing things up between seemingly unrelated projects, making experimentation (and resulting accidents) cheaper, and my favorite, encouraging people to collect what appears to be random junk if they find it interesting.
If something interests you, they say, squirrel it away into your messy filing cabinet of random ideas and periodically stumble through it. You never know when it may pop into your mind at the right moment, and even change the world. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Edward Jenner, who remembered a milkmaid telling him that she would never get smallpox because she had cowpox. That simple idea lead him to discover a vaccine for smallpox.