Serendipitously sidetracked: Drawing successful concepts from past mistakes

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Much has been said about failure and its inevitability in the path toward entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurs must expect a certain degree of failure when trying new things; it is a trial by fire that find them on the right track after trying all the wrong ones.

Typically, this helps the entrepreneur learn from mistakes in reaching a set goal, but on occasion, some past mistakes are worth revisiting. History is littered with inventions that were serendipitously inspired by a failed attempt at another goal. The ever-popular slinky toy, for instance, was derived from attempts to create a power meter for battleships. The chocolate-chip cookie proved to be popular in spite of being a failed attempt at creating cookies with scrap chocolates. The adhesive behind Post-it Notes was derived from a rejected batch of superglue.

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There have also been several world-changing inventions that were initially intended for highly impractical uses before being appropriated in their present ubiquitous form. It is a little-known fact that Thomas Edison’s phonograph was the unlikely forerunner of voicemail to be sent to people as a vocal letter. Although this was a dead end, it was appropriated as a way of playing and recording music, which led to the birth of the recording industry and the media as we know it today.

Revisiting past failures for new ideas work because some genuinely good concepts may very well have been initially used for the wrong purpose. While a failed idea may shut one door, it may sometimes leave another wide open, leading to very lucrative new ideas that have not been previously considered.

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Co-founded by Amit Raizada, Spectrum Business Ventures balances risk management and innovation in finding new investment opportunities. Visit this website for more on the firm and its investment portfolio.


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