Each year, thousands of innovations are created, patented and even released to the public without much notice or fanfare. And while many of these innovations improve our lives, not all of them have truly changed the world.
There are, however, many innovations that have made such a huge splash that society, as a whole, has never been the same. Inventions such as the light bulb, steam engine and the Internet come to mind. But for each of these widely known life-changing ideas and concepts, there exists countless others that are barely given a second glance. Here are 4 innovations that helped to shape – and change – the world we live in today.
These days we don’t think twice about DNA and how it helps us solve crimes, treat diseases and more. But 30 years ago, the founder of DNA fingerprinting was laughed at when he introduced his concept, and was accused of having “lost his marbles.”
Alec Jeffreys’ discovery at the University of Leicester has helped to solve thousands of crimes and other cases around the world, yet he refers to his discovery in 1984 as a glorious accident. He claims this discovery came about as he was merely messing around in his lab, and is quoted as saying, “You’ve got to leave space for the unexpected in research, and then have the mechanisms in place for the unexpected to be translated into something useful.”
While the first true application of DNA fingerprinting was used to resolve an immigration dispute, it was the moment his discovery was used to solve a murder case that Jeffreys was moved by the potential of his finding.
Velcro came to be when its inventor, George de Mestral of Switzerland, was hunting in the mountains of his homeland. While traipsing through the brush, he grew frustrated at how the cockleburs (a type of plant) would stick to his pants, and to his dog’s fur. Frustration grew to curiosity, and it wasn’t too long before de Mestral examined those cockleburs under a microscope to determine how they attached themselves. It was there where he discovered how the hooks of the cockleburs would engage with the loops in the fabric of his pants.
de Mestral got to work replicating nature (with the help of a weaver). His creation, a manmade cocklebur, was named Velcro (for the French words velour for velvet and crochet for hook.
Krazy Glue came about after several failed attempts by its inventor, Dr. Harry Coover, to create a plastic that would be suitable for a clear gun sight. This was 1942, and WWII was on everyone’s minds. Coover worked for Eastman Kodak, and was tasked with inventing a versatile plastic that could work well with the weaponry soldiers were using at the time.
The material he invented – cyanoacrylate – proved to be far too sticky to handle the job. So he did what most inventors would do: he threw it away and went back to the drawing board. Little did he realize at the time, but he had just invented one of the most versatile adhesives the planet has ever known.
Fast forward more than 15 years, and Coover rediscovered his invention and convinced his supervisors that it was worth investing in. He was right. Krazy Glue continues to be one of the top-selling products in the country.
So many innovations are the result of accidental discoveries. The story of the Black Box begins with a young boy, and a tragic accident that killed his father.
In 1934, David Warren was still at boarding school when Australia suffered its first major air disaster, claiming the life of his father. The wounds of that day stayed with Warren 20 years later, when he was part of a research think-tank group investigating the possible causes of a recent aircraft crash. Listening to the many theories that arose (including the new concept of hijacking), Warren realized that this problem could be solved if someone on the plane had been carrying a recording device similar to the newly released Protona Minifon that had caught his eye.
Warren’s idea fell on deaf ears, but he decided to push forward on his own. He continued to refine and revise his concept, ignoring the lack of enthusiasm from people in “the industry.” After several years of stubbornness and constant evolution, he introduced his recording device (and the recording of a four day flight from Australia to England – with a detour in Africa) to the English, where the term Black Box was coined.
Since that time, Warren’s invention has become the go-to method for determining the incidents leading up to a plane’s crash or disappearance.
One commonality most innovators experience (even those above) is doubt and ridicule from others who just “don’t get it.” But that’s the point of innovations, isn’t it? To introduce something so new and different that the public is taken aback?
Each of these innovators believed in their vision, and tuned out the naysayers while simultaneously reaching out to a team of supporters who could help make their dream a reality.
One thing’s for certain: the road toward realizing your innovation is not easy, nor straightforward. World-shattering innovations aren’t dreamed up and designed in one day. It takes hard work commitment and, most of all, unwavering belief in your vision.
The innovators above never expected to create a product that would change the way we live. But they did. You never know what’s right around the corner, do you?