Accidental Discovery

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Feb 09

(Plus 30 accidental discoveries that changed the world)

All of life is an experiment until proven otherwise. You try something, it works, you do more of it. You try something else, it doesn’t work, you stop. For all the advance work, care and attention given to any plan, as soon as implementation begins, experimentation starts, discovery begins and change happens.

This is true not only in our personal lives but also for professionals, people as diverse as entrepreneurs, artists, intrapreneurs, generals, scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, industrial designers, architects, realtors, plumbers, handy persons, renovators, constructors, coders, developers, marketers, urban designers, nurses, salespersons, filmmakers, firefighters…

Advertising and marketing guru George Lois (in his handy booklet, Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!), Phaidon Press, 2012) affirms this,

“I’ve always maintained that I never ‘create’ an idea. Getting a Big Idea is not an act of inspiration, but rather one of discovery.”

Look at the amazing work he did turning a street address (20 Times Square no less) into an incredible logo–


George is the same person who created an entirely new food category by inventing a brand name (Lean Cuisine) for Stouffers; it conjures up healthy, nutritious, tasty diet meals.Did he come up with the name in a team meeting? No. He discovered it on his own.

Being open to discovery applies to writing screenplays and novels too. Before I started writing Quantum Entity trilogy, the story arc and storyboards were complete and yet the final product is different from what I intended—in places characters you meet in this lengthy trilogy diverged from my script.

Sometimes they refused to say what I expected them to say and sometimes they went off the board entirely and did their own thing. I believe that discovery, and luck combine to produce art as much as hard work, training, discipline and practice do.

I realize this is heresy to literature teachers everywhere who will tell you, “Stay on point!” I discuss this further in a free mini book, which not only contains a detailed synopsis of the trilogy, it has some fearless future predictions as well.

It also serves Brad Pitt well in his 2013 film, World War Z, panned by many critics but which I liked. I think the most important part of the film is the scene where Jerusalem falls to the undead—they overrun the city. As Brad Pitt’s character retreats accompanied by Israeli soldiers and pursuing hungry monsters, Pitt stops stock still when he sees an obviously sick boy hunker down, covering his head, while 100s of zombies sprint past him ignoring him completely. This gives Brad an inkling into a possible solution.

What rings true about this is that there are some things you can only learn by doing. Brad could not have discovered this alternative while safely ensconced on a rescue ship. He had to be in the field. For more about World War Z, please click:

Here are a few things you can only learn by doing–

1. business models, whether they work as planned or require modification

2. beta product launches,what reaction markets have

3. battle plans, whether they work as planned or require modification

4. sex, what pleases your partner


5. catalysts, whether they speed things along or not

6. weather, too unpredictable to be meaningfully forecast

7. economic policies, whether the law of unintended consequences invoked

8. love, who you fall in love with

9. children, how they respond to discipline and incentives

10. motivation, how to get a team to work together

11. HR, who to recruit

12. taste, what you like/don’t like in clothes, fashion, food, film, music, people

13. sports, how to ski, snowboard, hang glide, windsurf, golf, sail, ride a bike, play tennis, skateboard…

14. party and events, what works, what doesn’t

15. YouTube video, what goes viral, what doesn’t

16. film, music, novel, what hits/what misses.

17. writing, adding layer upon layer, creating multiple meanings from a single set of words, surprising and pleasing readers who might otherwise be watching film, socializing with friends or doing anything other than reading for pleasure…

Here is a list of 30 accidental discoveries that changed the world–

a. penicillin

b. post-it-notes

c. strikeable match

d. the lever

e. plastic

f. velcro

g. law of gravity

h. radioactivity

i. microwave

j. mauve color

k. dynamite

l. pacemaker

m. anesthesia

n. teflon

o. saccharin

p. x-ray

q. vaseline

r. vulcanized rubber

s. chicken cholera vaccine

t. nuclear fission

u. LSD

v. safety glass

w. making fire

x. cave painting ochre

y. cellophane

z. chirality (right and left-handed chemical molecules)

aa. gunpowder (blasting gelatin)

bb. nylon

cc. DNA

dd. density

Luck plays a role in many discoveries, scientific, business, artistic even political. But there is also this–the harder you work, the luckier you get…

@ Prof Bruce

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.