Make the most of your accidents

Broken eggsIn 1953, S. Donald Stookey, a researcher at Corning Glass Works, placed a sample of FotoForm glass into an oven, intending to heat it to 600 degrees Celsius for an experiment he was working on. (FotoForm glass, which Stookey invented, is used in computer and communication technology.)

When he came back several hours later, he noticed that the oven’s controls were actually stuck at 900 degrees, not 600. He opened the oven, expected to find his sample ruined, and that he’d have to start his experiment over again with a new sample. What he found was a solid, opaque white piece of glassy material. He had accidentally created the first piece of glass ceramic, which became known as Pyroceram. Under the brand name CorningWare, this lab accident went on to make millions of dollars for Corning.

Accidents happen. Our response to accidents makes an immense difference. Stookey could have simply sighed to himself over the wasted time and material when his experiment went awry, tossed the “ruined” sample of glass out, and started over. Instead, he looked closely at what happened, and began exploring the properties of this new material.

Don’t write your accidents off as failures and try to sweep them away. Pay close attention to them. See what you can learn from them. Ask yourself what happened, why it happened, and what the results are.

Image credit: Gilbert Tremblay/Stock.xchng.

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