The following is a collection of anecdotes about innovations and inventions
I've collected over the years. While persistence and the "scientific method"
produce innumerable products, the real breakthroughs more often come from
inspiration, accident, and discovering the exceptions to the rule. In the
following examples, note how the products were developed from new conceptual
frameworks. The second section cites some of the remarkable resistances
to changes that were later overcome. A new section provides some interesting
Honda merged the concepts of automobile design and human evolution to
create the slogan, "theory of automobile evolution." This slogan
stimulated unconventional thinking about the next step in developing their
product line and then production of the Honda City, their urban model.
In 1985, Osaka-based Matsushita Electric were trying to develop a new
home bread baking machine. They were having trouble getting the machine
to knead dough correctly and as a result the crust was overcooked while
the inside was underdone. They even tried x-rays comparing bread kneaded
by machine and expert bakers, but to no avail. Finally, software developer
Ikuko Tanaka noticed that the head baker at the Osaka International Hotel
had the best reputation for baking bread. Tanaka observed the baker for
about a year and finally discovered the stretching and twisting technique
that make the dough work. The machine was then developed with special ribs
inside the machine to produce the stretching technique, and the "twist
dough method" set record sales for the bread maker in its first year.
Canon's revolutionary minicopier was based on the premise that the photosensitive
copier drum (which is the source of 90% of maintenance problems), had to
be disposable. Therefore it would have to be inexpensive and easy to produce.
The breakthrough came when task force leader Hiroshi Tanaka ordered out
for some beer. He held up a beer can and asked how the can could be made
so inexpensively. The team continued this line of questioning-how a copier
drum is and is not like a beer can--and manufactured a low cost aluminum
copier drum. By 1987, only five years after the introduction of the drum
model, 74% of Canon's revenues came from its business machines division.
In the 1940's inventors at General Electric were working on a new material
that bounced and stretched because they wanted to find a new rubber substitute.
It didn't develop as they hoped and it wasn't until Peter Hodgeson bought
some in 1947, that it was successfully packaged and sold as "silly putty"--still
selling well after more than 40 years.
In the 1960's at 3M, developers were trying to find a powerful glue.
The chemist assigned to the project, Spence Silver, often experimented
with variations in formulas--one resulting in a substance that would only
weakly stick and could be easily pulled apart. He worked on it for ten
years but despite improvements in its stickiness, it went undeveloped.
In 1974 Arthur Fry, one of Silver's co-workers, was trying to make a bookmark
stick in his church songbook and in a flash of recognition discovered the
application: Post-It Notes. Silver later stated, "If I had thought about
it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples
that said you can't do this."
Kodak color film was developed by a team of two unlikely inventors.
Since their high school friendship, Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes
had tinkered with photography as a hobby. The sons of musicians, they both
aspired to be musicians but were sidetracked by success. In contrast to
most inventors experimenting with three layers of film (red, yellow, blue)
to get a color range, they tried three layers of chemical treatments on
a single film. To time various parts of their experiments, rather than
using a clock they sang songs to an exact meter. They produced the first
color film in 1935.
The fold down Murphy Bed was invented by a stage coach driver who lived
in a single room. While he was on his coach runs, his wife liked to entertain
friends. Since Murphy was a tinkerer, he devised a bed that could be stored
in the wall when guests were visiting, and later be pulled down for sleeping.
In the 1870s grape growing in the San Joaquin Valley was quite popular.
However, in 1873 a severe heat wave struck the area damaging the grape
crop beyond retrieval. The grapes typically used for eating fresh or in
wine had shriveled completely on the vine. One dedicated (desperate?) grower
picked the shriveled grapes and sold them to a grocer in San Francisco
who discovered that they made a wonderful and profitable treat--raisins.
A metallurgist, Harry Brearly, in 1913 was trying to find a metal appropriate
for making gun barrels that would not rust. He was experimenting with a
variety of metal combinations or alloys, but most were not useful so he
threw them into a junk pile. Months later, Brearly noted that while most
of the rejected metal had rusted in the pile, some did not. On analysis
he discovered that the unrusted ones contained 14% chromium, and stainless
steel was invented.
William H. Mason had worked with Thomas Edison, and the waste products
from lumber mills was a concern to him. Rather than burn the scrap wood,
Mason proposed to "explode" the wood into fibers and try to find some use
for them. He experimented for months, successfully exploding them, but
frustrated that he could not find an application beyond possibly using
them as insulation. By accident, he left a pile of fibers in a press that
had a leaky steam valve. The extended period of pressure and heat formed
a firm and durable board. Mason tried to pound, cut, bend, drill and otherwise
work with the new substanced, finally convinced that he had created something
useful out of waste products--which was named after him--Masonite.
In 1849 Jean-Baptiste Jolly spilled oil from an oil lamp (distilled
turpentine) on his wife's tablecloth. Fearing that he'd damaged the cloth
he tried several times to wipe it off. Each time the cloth became cleaner.
Jolly was a cloth drier and realized that he had discovered a new cleaning
process that was better than the soap and water that would shrink, fade
or damage fragile fabrics. Since lamp oil was dangerous and left an odor,
other solvents were experimented with, resulting in what is now known as
a $2 billion a year business of "dry cleaning."
Johannes Keppler discovered a mathematical proof for the elliptical
orbits of the planets around the sun by trying to find a practical way
to measure the area and volume of wine in different shaped wine casks.
Gaslight was originally discovered by accident when an inventor, Sir
Archibald Cochrane, was cooking coal to get coal tar. He was attempting
to condense the tar so it could be applied to English ship hulls to stop
the destructive damage of worm rot. Instead, his experiment exploded, destroying
his lab. Writing to a distant friend about the incident, the potential
was not lost on the friend who capitalized on the burning gas. This invention
alone made better lit streets safer, enabled work at night (including night
classes), and fostered evening entertainment.
During WWII an American, Percy Spencer, made magnetrons that were used
in radar systems to detect planes and ships from the beams that were bounced
back from their surfaces. He noticed that hands could be warmed by holding
them close to the magnetron, and also discovered that a candy bar had melted
in his pocket. Recognizing the potential for cooking, he experimented on
popcorn and pork chops. In a demonstration to the members of the board
of his company, he microwaved an egg--which exploded--and convinced the
board of its cooking power. It was patented in 1953 as the High Frequency
Dielectric Heating Apparatus.
A Swiss engineer, Georges de Mestral, was trying to discover a better
fastener for clothes. After walking in the woods one day he noticed burrs
sticking to his clothing. Using a magnifying glass he found that tiny barbs
on the plant were hooked into the threads of his fabric. After eight years
of experimenting, he designed two pieces of fabric: one with tiny hooks,
the other with tiny loops, that would adhere when touched but could be
ripped apart. Velcro was patented in 1957.
Growing up in the early 1800's in New England, Charles Goodyear was
fascinated with the properties of a new substance from the sap of tropical
plants. Products made from the rubber substance usually became sticky in
hot weather and cracked in cold weather. Goodyear began experimenting with
mixing the rubber with numerous substances to soften it. Totally absorbed
with the project, he sometimes sold his children's schoolbooks to raise
money, and even spent time experimenting in jail for not paying his debts.
By accident one day he dropped a piece of rubber mixed with sulphur and
white lead on a hot stove. The next day when he picked it up it was soft
and flexible. In 1844 he patented his process called "vulcanization" for
the vulcanized rubber.
In 1978 an employee at Proctor and Gamble went on lunch break and forgot
to turn off one of the machines that stirred soap. When he returned the
soap mixture had more bubbles mixed in it than usual. It was so light that
it floated, and delighted the customers with Ivory Soap. Even the crease
in the soap was accidental--it used to be used to mark the soap for cutting
in the factory until it was discovered that customers also liked its convenience.
Oscar Levi Strauss saw the need for tough pants in the gold rush era
of 1849 California. To respond to the miners' complaints that the knees
wore out of regular pants he used tent canvas. The fabric was ordered from
Nimes, France (de Nimes, or denims). An old miner named Alkali Ike complained
that the pockets ripped off too easily when he stuffed his pockets with
heavy tools. As a joke, Ike's pants were taken to a blacksmith and the
pockets put back on with rivets. The idea worked so well that Strauss soon
put them on all the jeans.
Brazilian Indians recognized the value of tree sap which they put on
their feet and let it harden near a fire. The sap "resoled" feet helped
protect them. European explorers returned the substance to England where,
in the 1700's, Joseph Priestly used it to rub out pencil markings. First
called "lead eater" it was later referred to as "rubber." In 1832 Wair
Webster in New York patented a process to attach it to the soles of shoes,
although the process wasn't successful until the first pair of sneakers
made in Connecticut on 1868. Bill Bowerman became obsessed with making
the perfect sole and one day was impressed with the design in his breakfast
waffles. After his wife went to work he poured some rubber into the waffle
iron and made the first waffle sole shoe for improved traction (the Nike
In 1762 a gambler named John Montagu had the habit of becoming overinvolved
in card games and was reluctant to take breaks to eat. Prepared for such
an event he brought slices of bread and meat and played while he ate. His
invention was named after him (his formal title was the fourth Earl of
In the mid-19th century several people tried to invent a carpet cleaner
to take the drudgery out of beating carpets outdoors. There were several
attempts to brush dirt out and blow dirt away but these caused more noise
and mess than they did benefit. An Englishman named Cecil Booth got the
idea of reversing the blower and create a vacuum. He put a handkerchief
over his mouth and got down on the carpet a sucked air. Sure enough, the
handkerchief filtered the dirt. His 1901 vacuums were huge and required
towing by horses from house to house, so in 1908 they were improved and
miniaturized by American James Spangler.
In 1869 an Ohio dentist, William Semple, patented spruce sap gum as
a means of "jaw exercise" but it never caught on for that use. Around the
same time, a relative of two US presidents, Thomas Adams experimented with
a new type of rubbery sap called chicle from the sapodilla tree of Central
America. He tried to vulcanize it the way Goodyear did, but it just wouldn't
stretch or bounce. Overhearing a young girl asking for the scarce spruce
gum, he covered the chicle gum with flavoring and called it Blibber-Blubber,
later to be called Chiclets.
John and Will Kellogg believed that American's diets were unhealthy.
John's special interest was breakfast. He set about making special breads
for breakfast by experimenting with wheat in the barn behind their sanatorium.
Trying boiling, mashing, and rolling the wheat to no success, they left
it in a pot to mold. By accident he rolled out a moldy specimen which made
a separate flake which they browned. By refining the process the Kellogg's
were able to make wheat and corn flakes.
In the 1920's Charles Birdseye was puzzled with the problem of keeping
frozen meat from becoming damaged by the cells becoming punctured by slow
forming ice crystals. During a trip to Labrador, Birdseye watched how native
people froze fish quickly. He developed a fast freezing process that reduced
crystal formation and started selling small packages of frozen vegetables
that still bear his name.
About the 1820's when extensive research was being conducted with coal
tar, it was discovered that naphtha could be extracted. Experiments were
often conducted on just about every material available, and it was about
that time that rubber was just being introduced to England. The naphtha
was found to dissolve rubber, and in 1823 it was spread between layers
of cloth to produce the first water resistant fabric, named after the investor--MacIntosh.
In 1838, John Gorrie noticed that malaria (mal-aria: Italian for "bad
air") was related to the hot humid weather and foul odor rising off the
swamps in Florida. He mistakenly assumed that cool air would remedy the
condition and immediately set about using the newly invented piston engine
to produce ice. Although his premise was wrong, he had invented the prototype
for refrigeration and air conditioning.
In 1852 the nutmeg plantations near Ceylon grew rapidly as the surrounding
forest was cut down. The resulting warm pools of water were also perfect
for promoting the expansion of the anopheles mosquito that carried malaria.
England attempted to grow cinchona to produce quinine to control the symptoms
of the disease, but it was difficult to get people to drink the bitter
mixture until they added gin for flavoring. The gin and tonic caught on
The production of coal tar in the 1850's in England and Germany left
a residual sludge until William Perkin attempted to create an artificial
quinine by adding an aniline solution. The resulting red and black powders,
when added to water created colorful artificial dyes. In the 1870's the
German chemical industry created more colors, and suddenly, colorful fashion
was in! (Incidentally, fertilizers and pain killers later grew out of these
Gutenberg, the inventor of movable printing type, disliked the idea
of hand engraving an entire page of text on a single slab of wood. Intrigued
by coin-making, in which plain discs are stamped by a coin punch, he devised
a method for stamping out metal letters that could be reused. Combined
with an idea obtained by observing a wine press, he developed the printing
In the 1850's George Bissel grew tired of inefficiently drawing oil
from shallow wells with buckets and wringing oil out of soaked towels.
He noticed a brine pump at a salt plant and designed a similar one for
James Watt's steam engine was inspired by the jangling lid of his mother's
Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the TV, got the idea of line by
line refreshing of a TV screen from noticing the rows made by a horse-drawn
Luigi Galvani's wife placed a steel knife on a tin plate, accidentally
touching a frog's leg and making it jump. Galvani deduced that the different
metals created electricity and he set about developing the battery. (His
young son deduced that the frog was still alive and smacked it with a cleaver).
Sir Marc Isambard Brunel was struggling with the problem of constructing
tunnels under water. He observed a shipworm constructing a tube for itself
as it moved forward through a timber. Seizing upon the idea, he contrived
a short steel cylinder that could be pushed forward through the tunnel
as work progressed.
Samuel Morse's first telegraph messages became weak after traveling
only a few miles. He metaphorically considered that if stagecoach relay
stations added fresh horses to the team, he could add relay stations that
could ad more power to the fading signal.
Charles Darwin noted that animal breeders could selectively breed in
or out certain characteristics that improved the market value of their
animals. He extended this observation, concluding that a similar process
could occur during natural selection in nature.
Watching a cat trying to catch a chicken through a fence inspired another
inventor. The cat missed the chicken, only to come back with a paw full
of feathers. It suggested to Eli Whitney that he could have hundreds of
"claws" reach through a tight fence and pull cotton away from the seeds--his
After surviving a head-on train collision, George Westinghouse learned
of a Swiss rock drill that was powered by an air hose 3,000 feet from the
compressor. He immediately designed the Westinghouse air brake that was
powered throughout the length of the train by compressed air.
Scotsman Dunlop's first tire was not only inspired by the flexibility
of a garden hose, it was a piece of garden hose wrapped around a wheel.
Wine grapes, which ferment only when crushed, suggested to Louis Pasteur
that human flesh would not putrefy unless an open wound allowed putrefying
agents to get in. An experiment confirmed this novel idea, which led to
an improved understanding of infections and the use of Band-Aids to prevent
Charles Duryea, looking for a better way to squirt gas into engine cylinders,
used the analogy of his wife's perfume atomizer to develop a spray injection
The Schick injector razor, invented by an army person, was inspired
by the loading mechanism of the repeating rifle.
Wet leaves, which pack together snugly without breaking, metaphorically
led to the development of Pringles Potato Chips.
Josephine Dickson was somewhat accident prone and collected a more than
average number of minor cuts and scratches. Her husband, Earle, was not
always home to help with extra hands to apply bandages, so he prepared
three lengths of surgical tape with a piece of gauze in the middle of each
and cloth to cover them for sterility. The dressing was easily applied
with one hand. James Johnson, Earle's employer quickly saw the advantage
and in 1924 Johnson & Johnson produced the familiar Band-Aids.
During World War II there was a strong effort to find substitute for
hard to obtain rubber. James Wright, a chemical engineer, mixed silicone
oil and boric acid to discover a gooey polymer, but it was not firm enough
for rubber--it only bounced on the counter. With high hopes of turning
it into something productive, GE sent samples of the substance around the
world, but the scientists could not create an application for this "bouncing
putty" as it was called. Corning Glass received a patent for a similar
substance which eventually made its way into the hands of Peter Hodgson.
Hodgeson borrowed $147 to purchase a batch of what he now called "silly
putty" and sold it in plastic eggs. Sales went from a hundred eggs sold
a day to hundreds of thousands! In addition to its use as a bouncing toy,
it has been used to strengthen hands in physical therapy and make casts
of gorillas' feet.
Cross disciplinary cooperation works. Bunsen, a chemist, used the color
of a chemical sample in a gas flame for a rough determination of the elements
it contained. He described the shortcomings of the technique to Kirchhoff,
a physicist, who immediately suggested a prism to display the entire spectrum
for more detailed information. This led to the science of spectrography
and has contributed greatly to science of cosmology.
Alexander Graham Bell was inspired to develop the telephone when he
read an account, written in German, describing an invention which he thought
had the function of a telephone. After demonstrating his first telephone,
Bell learned that, because of the language barrier, he had misunderstood
the report and the German invention had an entirely different function.
In 1976 Armond Marriott was using a large water spraying machine to
keep his fruit trees from freezing in a cold weather spell. The sprayed
water turned to snow, giving him the idea for snow-making machines that
are now used for producing early snow on ski slopes.
Competition to develop new farming technology using bigger and bigger
equipment led Benjamin Holt to try to find a way to get the large equipment
from getting stuck in tilled farm soil. By laying down a series of planks,
the huge machinery could roll right over the soft ground and not get enmired
the way huge steel wheels or tires would. Observers said it "looked like
a caterpillar" and tha name stuck --Caterpillar Tractor. When General Pershing
requested something that could traverse all kinds of terrain, a secret
tread-rolling machine was developed for warfare. When asked what the new
machines were, but not wanting to give away the new development, military
personnel answered, "They're water tanks for Mesopotamia." The name stuck--Tanks.
Roland Moreno in 1974 was a young inventor who was trying to keep his
new electronics business in operation, but he was flat broke. He decided
to make the best of this situation with no money, and developed a credit
card with a chip in it to keep a record of total funds and expenses--the
smart card! His ideas have been applied to ATM's, autotelephone booths,
and even turnpike booths. He doesn't have to worry about cash flow problems
"Creative failure methodology" is a recently coined phrase describing
the serendipitous effects of researching one application and discovering
another. At Bell Labs, a multidisciplinary team was formed to invent the
MOS transistor, and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the
new science of semiconductor physics. These eventually led to the MOS transistor
and then to the integrated circuit. Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate Physicist,
stated: "To develop working ideas efficiently, I try to fail as fast as
In 1820 it was a "well known fact" that electricity and magnetism were
independent phenomena. Oersted was conducting a public experiment to demonstrate
the "fact" but it failed--an electric current produced a magnetic
effect. He was observant enough to notice it, honest enough to admit it,
and diligent enough to follow up and publish it. Maxwell used these studies
to develop Maxwell's Laws and opened the electronics age.
Eric Von Hipple of the MIT Business School extensively studied the sources
of innovation in the electronics industry and concluded that more than
70% of product innovations came from users. They couldn't find the tools
or equipment they needed on the market and were forced to develop their
While Edward Land was taking pictures of his family during a vacation
in the southwest, his daughter asked why they had to wait so long for the
pictures. "Good question!" he thought and returned to Boston to try out
some rapid development ideas--finally developing the Polaroid Land Camera.
Kodak didn't think customers minded waiting to get their pictures, and
it cost them billions of dollars for late market entry and patent infringement
In the 1500's, Phillippine natives used a four pound rock with an attached
20 foot line for hunting. They could throw the weapon toward the legs of
an animal and, if missed, retrieve the weapon easily. In the 1920's Pedro
Flores moved to the US and worked as a bellhop at a Santa Monica
Hotel. Like many Phillippine youth, he played with a wooden version of
the weapon. His antics during his lunch hours drew large crowds leading
him to eventually form his own company for producing the amusing device.
He used his native Tagalog language to name the device "come-come," or
as we know it, yo-yo. Donald Duncan, a promoter who had already pushed
the Eskimo Pie and Good Humor Ice Cream, started the boom in 1962 when
he took commercials to television. The 70-year history has led to more
than 600 million sold.
During WWII there was intense research conducted to find a substitute
for rubber. Although there is some dispute over who specifically invented
the product, one version states that at a General Electric meeting a rubber
substitute was passed around that felt and bounced like rubber, but when
left on a table it melted flat. Although a patent was granted in 1947 to
McGregor & Warrick, the rubber was considered a "loser" product and
was kept around primarily for its amusing properties. In 1949 it was placed
along side crayola crayons in a catalog and immediately outsold all other
items as Silly Putty.
About 1860 a young chemist in Brooklyn had lost his income due
to a shortage of sperm whale oil from which kerosene was derived. The petroleum
industry was just coming into prominence when the chemist became fascinated
with rod wax, the sticky substance that stuck to and seized up the drilling
rigs. Having heard the old stories about its healing properties, he extracted
a translucent material from the tarry product. He combined the German word
for water (wasser) and Greek word for olice oil (elaion) to create the
exotic sounding Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. The young Robert Chesebrough
then took his medicine show on the road, cutting and burning himself in
demonstrations before the awestruck public, then daubing his wounds with
the healing jelly (Lindsey, 2000).
Although the origin of the writing stylus can be traced to early Egypt
and Greece, the pencil using graphite, probably made its first appearance
in 1564 when a graphite deposit was discovered in England. Much of the
graphite uses was of poor qiality, often breaking or crumbling. In 1795
when Napoleon's army was cut off from its English and German pencils, a
French Army officer was commissioned to find a substitute. He mixed various
proportions of clay with graphite, fired it, and created the graded hardness
of pencils we use today.
In October, 1903 an astronomer named Simon Newcombe said human flight
was "utterly impossible."
In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine forecasted a bleak future for computers,
stating that, "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
The 1943 Chairman of IBM was even more dubious, commenting, "I think there
is a world market for maybe five computers." By 1968, an engineer at IBM
commented on the microchip, asking, "but what...is it good for?" Finally,
Ken Olson, Chairman and Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation asserted,
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
A Western Union internal memo in 1876 stated, "This ‘telephone' has
too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.
The device is inherently of no value to us." The attitude had not changed
much by the 1920's when David Sarnoff's associates, in response to his
urgings for investment in the newly developed radio, said, "The wireless
music box has no imaginable commercial value--who would pay for a message
sent to no body in particular?"
Before Warner Brothers became the innovative movie production studio
for which it is now known, H. M. Warner in 1927 asked, "Who the hell wants
to hear actors talk?"
"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides the market research reports say
America likes crisp cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make."--Response
to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.
It's hard for new ideas to get off the ground. "Heavier than air flying
machines are impossible."--Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
"Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value."--Marchal Ferninand
Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
"So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even
built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us?
Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come
work for you. And they said, ‘No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard,
and they said, ‘Hey, we don't need you. You haven't even got through college
yet.'"--Apple Computer founder, Steve Jobs describing early attempts to
get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer.
"You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all
of your muscles? It can't be done. It's just a fact of life. You just have
to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of
weight training."--Response to Arthur Jones who solved the "unsolvable
problem" by inventing Nautilus.
"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?
You're crazy!"--Drillers who Edwin Drake tried to enlist to his project
to drill for oil in 1859.
"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the
intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."--Sir John Eric Erickson, British
surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873.
"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."--Decca
recording Co., rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" --Harry M. Warner, Warner
"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."
--Robert Milliken, Physics Nobel Prize (1923)
"Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction
and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react.
He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."--New
York Times editorial about Robert Goddard's revolutionary rocket work,
"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."--Irving
Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
"640K ought to be enough for anybody."--Bill Gates, 1981.
"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with
the best people, and I can assure
you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."
--The editor in charge of business books
for Prentice Hall, 1957
"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered
as a means of communication.
The device is inherently of no value to us." --Western Union internal
"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would
pay for a message sent to
nobody in particular?" --David Sarnoff's associates in response
to his urgings for investment in the
radio in the 1920s.
"We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial greatness
as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time and the
money involved in further air experiments. Life is short, and he is capable
of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result
from trying````````````` to fly. For students and investigators of the
Langley type there are more useful employment's with fewer disappointments
and mortifications than have been the portion of aerial navigators since
the days of Iccarus." New York Times, December 10, 1903 (The Wright Brothers
Kitty Hawk Flight was on December 17, 1903)
"If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The
literature was full of examples that
said you can't do this." --Spencer Silver on the work that led to
the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It"
"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction". --Pierre Pachet,
Professor of Physiology at
"What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives
traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?" --The Quarterly Review, England
"The abolishment of pain in surgury is a chimera. It is absurd to go
on seeking it... Knife and pain are two words in surgury that must forever
be associated in the consciousness of the patient." Dr. Alfred Velpeau,
French Surgeon, 1839.
Radio has no future." --Lord Kelvin, ca. 1897.
"Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over
wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical
value." --Editorial in the Boston Post, 1865.
That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development
is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a
radical nature have been introduced." --Scientific American, January 2,
"Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon as attempt to employ
steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic." --Dr. Dionysus
Lardner (1838), Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University
"When the Paris Exhibition closes electric light will close with it
and no more be heard of." --Erasmus Wilson (1878), Professor of Oxford
"The foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd
length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists working in
thought-tight compartments." --A. W. Bikerton (1926), Professor of
Physics and Chemistry, Canterbury College, New Zealand.
"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially
and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which
we need waste little time dreaming." --Lee DeForest, 1926 (American
"But what...is it good for?" --Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems
Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
" I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked
with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad
that won't lastout the year." --The editor in charge of business
books for Prentice Hall, 1957.
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." --Thomas
Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943.
"There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever
be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at
will." --Albert Einstein, 1932.
"Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 19,000 vacuum tubes
and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum
tubes and perhaps weight only 1.5 tons." Popular Mechanics, March
And the most impressive pronouncement, "Everything that can be invented,
has been invented."--Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U. S. Office of Patents,
"If you don't learn from your mistakes, there's
no sense making them." --Anonymous
"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody
has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." --Albert Szent-Gyorgy.
"Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response
to error that counts." --Nikki Giovanni
"America was discovered accidentally by a
great seaman who was looking for something else." --The Oxford History
of the American People
"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves,
and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things
to them." --Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Burke, J. (1978). Connections. Boston: Little Brown.
Cerf, C., & Navasky, V. (1984). The experts speak: The definitive
compendium of authoritative misinformation. Pantheon.
Davis, G. A. (1992). Creativity is forever. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
Freeman, A., & Golden, B. (1997). Why didn't I think of that?
New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Jones, C. F. (1996). Accidents may happen: Fifty inventions discovered
by mistake. New York: Delacorte.
Lindsey, D. (2000). House of invention: The secret life of everyday
products. New York: Lyons Press.
Mitroff, I. J., & Linstone, H. A. (1993). The unbounded mind:
Breaking and chains of traditional business thinking. New York: Oxford.
Nadler, G., & Hibino, S. (1990). Breakthrough thinking. Rocklin,
CA: Prima Publishing and Communications.
Roberts, R. M. (1989). Serendipity: Accidental discoveries in science.
New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Wyatt, V. (1987). Amazing investigations: Inventions. New York:
Simon and Schuster
Links on Invention & Innovation
& Inventions (collection of sort stories of origins)
Innovation (MIT report)
address to the World Congress on Thinking & Creativity
Mining Company's Guide
term trends in business economics notes (note invention section)
about the innovation-decision process
Unusual page on
invention and thinking info
The Head Shed
Creative Problem Solving Style (online inventory)
(software for thinking)
of Bell's path to inventing the telephone
Quotations from Inventors
bibliography on creativity and innovation
Creativity in Science &
a culture for innovation--
Last updated 2-17-02
David X. Swenson Ph.D.