(By Ekaterina Walter)
“Some of the most common household products were created by people who could see past potential disasters. These people had drive and ambition, but they also had the knack of turning failure into success.“
Most successful people, when asked what makes them different, will cite something such as “tenacity,” “perseverance,” or just “sheer hard work.” These qualities are all important, but not every success story is based on perseverance alone. There’s also the art of the failure.
Some of the most common household products were created by people who could see past potential disasters. These people had drive and ambition, but they also had the knack of turning failure into success.
Here are four examples of disasters-turned-breakthroughs:
1. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
It’s hard to imagine a more ubiquitous product now, but did you know that this cereal was the byproduct of a failed attempt to make bland hospital food? Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg, wanted to produce cooked wheat for their sanitarium patients, who had been prescribed a strict, vegetarian diet. Left unattended, the wheat went stale, so the brothers tried to salvage it by pressing it through rollers. When toasted, the resulting crispy flakes proved to be popular with the patients.
In 1906, Will Kellogg started marketing his corn flakes to the public. He soon added other grains, including toasted rice–now known as Rice Krispies.
In 1991, scientists at Pfizer in England were disappointed to learn that trials of their new cardiovascular drug showed it to have an insignificant effect combating angina. But then they discovered its much more powerful side effects. Pfizer quickly realized that Viagra’s initial failure could be vastly profitable and set about marketing the drug for impotence rather than for heart disease.
In 1939, Percy Spencer was building magnetrons for radar sets when he found that the candy bar in his pocket had melted. Intrigued, he investigated the heating properties of microwaves and discovered they were highly efficient for cooking food. He enclosed his experiments in a metal box, and in 1945 his company, Raytheon, filed a patent for a microwave cooking oven, eventually named the Radarange.
John Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta, originally invented Coca-Cola as a health drink. Until 1905, the soft drink contained extracts of cocaine (which was then legal) as well as the caffeine-rich kola nut, hence the name. But Coca-Cola sales were moderate until 1887, when the recipe was bought by Asa Candler, another Atlanta pharmacist and businessman.
Candler’s investment in marketing turned Coca-Cola into one of America’s most popular drinks. His idea to sell the syrup to licensed independent bottling companies helped its distribution across the country–and the world.
All of these stories have something in common: people with the imagination to see beyond the failures or the low sales numbers to see more potential in their products. This ability to think outside the box, to look beyond the status quo and dream bigger, is the essential ingredient to turn around a disaster and make it a success.