Innovation Is Random

A dramatic, and sad, example of how random innovation can be:

A blowtorch flame is barrelling onto its surface to no effect. The egg should have cracked apart within seconds under the blistering heat. Yet after a few minutes, McCann picks it up and holds it in his hand. “It only just feels warm,” he says. He cracks it open and out dribbles a runny yolk. “It hasn’t even begun to start cooking.” That was March 1990, and this remarkable demonstration on the British TV show Tomorrow’s World was about to transform [Maurice] Ward’s fortunes.

The egg itself was nothing special. Its extraordinary resistance to the blowtorch’s heat came from a thin layer of white material that Ward had daubed on its shell. An amateur inventor, … Ward had concocted the stuff with no scientific training and named it Starlite. … Subsequent tests in British and US government labs confirmed that it was the real thing. …

Over the next two decades, Ward made a handful of samples of his material, but always refused to reveal the recipe. Then, in May 2011, he died. … A former hairdresser, in the 1980s [Ward] reportedly ran a small plastics company in northern England. He was also an English eccentric with a white beard, a bow tie and a divergent mind. He told journalists he made some batches of Starlite on his kitchen table in a food processor. ..

Greenbury believes that Ward was never interested in the money. His thinks Ward wasn’t able to relinquish the role of expert. By passing on the responsibility for Starlite to trained scientists, Greenbury suggests, Ward would have lost this coveted status. (more)

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