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Accidental Innovation: Seeing Potential in the Unexpected

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Digital communications are evolving at an unprecedented pace and reshaping the way we connect with and relate to one another. Behind this rapid change is continuous innovation ― but it doesn’t always come in the form we expect. One of the themes of this year’s Digital Leadership Forum in June will be “unexpected successes as source for innovation”.

As Peter Drucker has said, “Don’t ignore the unexpected, it’s the richest source of innovation.”

We can see this in the way that many hugely popular products were initially invented for something else. Take Coca Cola, for example: Originally formulated by a pharmacist as a tonic to relieve headaches and anxiety, it went on to become the most popular soda in the world. Similarly, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were not intentionally created as a breakfast cereal but were the result of the Kellogg brothersaccidentally flaking wheat while trying to make granola.

How Often Do We Look Back?

But what if the inventors of these iconic products had not seen the potential beyond their originally intended use? The question is, how often do we look back and check for unexpected successes in our digital projects? For example, by systematically looking into the analytics of our websites or intranets and asking ourselves how we can use unforeseen results to advance our project objectives. All too often, outcomes that lie outside of what we had anticipated are automatically dismissed.

While innovation can’t always be planned for, we can learn to foster the kind of vision that seeks possibility in the unexpected and examines things beyond their face value. In this way, even seeming failures can reveal hidden opportunities to improve our digital initiatives.

Additional reading on Peter Drucker’s insights into how to increase the potential for innovation by critically evaluating unanticipated events can be found here.

What Has Been Your Experience with Accidental Innovation?

Have you had any unexpected successes in your projects?

Photo: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

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