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Question #53700 posted on 10/01/2009 3:01 a.m.

Dear Sages of the 100 Hour Board,

I have been thinking lately about failure and how it is often based on perspective and/or context, or maybe someone was labeled a failure who just hadn't arrived at his or her prime yet. For example, some of the events described in Man with a Mustache's answer to question Board Question #50338 I'm more thinking about things than people, though. Like I remember hearing as a kid that matches were invented by accident (although nothing I have found online seems to support that). Things that were originally seen as failures or mistakes but then became popular in their own right.

My question is: have you ever heard stories like this, about anything or anyone, although like I said, I'm mostly interested in things (like mistaken inventions or innovations), and if so, what are some you find cool?


- Guy Fawkes

A: Dear Guy Fawkes,

The first two accidental inventions that popped into my mind were penicillin and the microwave. I've always been under the impression that the stories of how those two things came to be are fairly well known, so I thought about your question for a couple days. To be honest, I didn't really come up with much on my own, but I knew there had to be others out there. So, I did some searching.

You, my friend, might be interested in this site, and perhaps this one, and maybe even this last one. There are a couple overlaps between these three sites, but you get the idea. There are a lot of things out there that we take for granted that were actually discovered by accident or as a result of a failed experiment. Well, not failed, it just didn't quite turn out the way the experimenter was expecting. Like Post-it Notes! Seriously, who would have thought?

So, I'm with you on this one, that failure is almost always a matter of perception. I think a lot of people out there would be so much better off with a little confidence in themselves and a morale boost from those around them. I mean after all, Vincent van Gogh only sold one of his 900+ paintings during his lifetime.

-Sky Bones