My uncle tells a great story about how he discovered some of the technology that contributed making stealth aircraft. He was in charge of QA at an aircraft plant that was making wings out of composite materials. He was looking for a non-destructive way to test the makeup of composite materials to look for imperfections as they cooled. One approach he was researching was using, “non-traditional forms of energy” to look for voids in the composite structure. During the course of his fiddling around with various waveforms and orientations, he noticed that he could deflect the waves when the composites were configured in a certain way.
My uncle, upon telling his boss about this oddity, was encouraged to document his findings for a company patent. When management looked over what he had presented, they saw that he was onto something and he was called in, asked if he could get the security clearance, and the rest is history.
Besides a good story of good-ol’ American tinkering is that this transformational innovation came from, “the accidental discovery of the answer to one problem while looking for another.” Careful study, analysis, and focus groups can only get you so far – to truly innovate, you need to give a chance for opportunities that come stumbling your way sometimes by chance and be open-minded enough to trust your instincts and grab it.