From ‘oops’ to ‘eureka’

Mark Twain once remarked that accident was the greatest inventor of them all, and then he promptly tripped over.

Even if I made that last part up, the master humorist did uncover an incisive truth in the domain of creative thinking. In these times where creativity is increasingly being coaxed to enter modern day workplaces, many organizations are furiously trying to institutionalize the process. But the muse seems to be as rare to encounter; as getting an auto rickshaw to take you a short distance, on a rain ravaged day.

Is formalizing a method really the way to instigate creativity? As companies grapple with systems and procedures, can something as unfettered as creativity, ever be regimented?

A brief examination of the history of conceptual ideas, throws up some interesting paradoxes. These, almost counterintuitive approaches, seem to defy conventional logic. But in many ways they might precisely be the milestones on a truly innovative journey. In an era where one is burdened with ‘to do’ lists, let’s take the lazier alternative of elaborating on some ‘don’ts’.

Don’t give up on a washed out project

One day cricket, quite literally rose from the Ashes. Legend has it that the English and Australian teams; put up an impromptu limited overs show on the fifth day, of a rain impaired test match. The feedback from both the players and the spectators must have been exciting, and very soon a newer, more marketable version of an age old sport was born.

3M’s Post It, was also a result of the team persisting with a failed product. Fresh uses were found and the scope of the new invention was redefined to launch a mega brand.

Having gone a certain distance, and then being confronted with disappointment might not always be a bad thing. Impending failure could just prompt, examining the same issue from a bolder new perspective.

Don’t stay awake on the job

August Kekule was pondering the molecular structure of benzene. Immersed in deep thought he drifted off to sleep. He dreamt of a snake swallowing its own tail, and he woke up to a defining moment in organic chemistry. The atoms of carbon had to arrange themselves in a ring shape; was his breakthrough insight.

Dreams liberate us from the debilitating constraints of purely rational thinking. They enable truly random combinations of the problem elements; that sometimes can never surface in a conscious experience. So the next time you get caught taking a nap at the office; calmly retort; ‘it was only in the pursuit of a truly landmark idea’.

Don’t go looking for it

Copernicus was a physician who gazed into the night sky; purely because the task of prescribing medicine in those times depended on planetary positions. Guttenberg was in the midst of a wine festival. Darwin was on a long voyage recording different species off the coast of South America. All these men inadvertently stumbled onto serendipitous observations that would change the history of mankind.

Sometimes ideas emerge almost with an envious intent, when the explorer seems to be paying attention elsewhere. When this happens, teams need to be flexible enough to recognize it as such, as often they would be dealing with something completely different. The ability to switch tracks at that moment, to pursue the new idea is of critical importance.

Don’t hesitate to examine the opposite

Accidents happen when one travels in the opposite direction to the expected course. Few examples would compare with the concept of ‘Ahimsa’ in this regard. Inspired by the Mahatma, the Indian freedom struggle confounded the British with their sterling resolve to not retaliate, in the face of violence. An unexpected and novel strategy that led to our freedom…

Organizations are learning that exploring the opposite alternative, sometimes leads to competitive advantage. The iconic self deprecating ‘Think Small’ approach of the Volkswagon Beetle, in stark contrast to the pompous brands around it, surely drove the brand straight into consumer hearts in America.

Eventually random insight and serendipitous events; play an important part in creativity. Companies need to appreciate this and create cultures and environments, where the probability of such chance events is increased.

It’s time we unleashed chance to give creativity a chance.

Post by Vinay Kanchan

Vinay Kanchan is a creative thinking trainer and an independent brand consultant. He is the author of the book, The Madness Starts at 9 and also the patron saint of a footballing movement called Juhu Beach United, that celebrates, the unfit, out of breath working professional of today. He blogs at can be contacted at

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