In 1891, a physical education teacher named James Naismith invented the game of basketball when he nailed two ordinary peach baskets to the wall of a gymnasium. His students loved the game. But, there was a problem. Every time a player shot the ball into the basket, somebody had to get up on a ladder and take it out. That wasted a lot of time and it ruined the flow of the game.
But then something happened. After many games, the bottoms of the peach baskets became so weak that they eventually broke off, allowing the basketball to fall straight through.
This simple serendipitous invention allowed the game to be played continuously without interruption, and it gave rise to a global billion-dollar industry we know today as professional basketball.
The game of basketball isn’t the only invention created through pure chance. Many successful products you see around you today are the result of serendipity. The Post-it note, velcro, penicillin, x-rays and even chocolate chip cookies were created by chance.
With so many successful products created through serendipity, it makes you wonder whether companies can rely on it to create breakthrough products. The answer is no. Serendipity, as a method of innovation, has a very poor track record. The number of serendipitous products is a tiny percentage of the total of all products. It just doesn't yield nearly the amount of blockbuster products as you would think.