Innovation: The science of serendipity

Matt Kingdon
?What If!

Over the years the word serendipity has come to mean 'happy accident'. The original meaning of the word is more subtle and describes how things are discovered seemingly by chance, whereas in fact they are hard earned. This concept seems wholly suited to the great commercial buzzword of our age – innovation.

The story behind the launch of Viagra is fascinating. It goes something like this. In 1993, 12 men in Cardiff tried a new angina drug for a week. They refused to give the experimental drugs back, claiming their sex lives had been radically improved.

Although it was not a solution to the original problem, Pfizer realised it had a winner on its hands. The eventual launch of Viagra in 1998 doubled the stock price and enabled the acquisition of Lipitor -and for a while Pfizer became one of the most valuable companies in the world by market capitalisation. Not a bad outcome from a lucky break.