Alexander Fleming was not the tidiest scientist in the world.

In fact, if Fleming were a science student today he’d probably be reprimanded for his disheveled habits.

You see, in order to maintain the integrity of one’s research, cleanliness is key. Every scientist knows that. The last thing you need is foreign objects contaminating your experiment.

But Fleming may not have been the best with that.

Accidental Success


He did his work in the early 20th century. The Great Influenza had already killed millions and Fleming was trying to find a cure in case the flu reared its deadly head again.

But, alas, nothing was coming out of his experiments. So he did what any great scientist would do: he went on vacation.

I’m sure it was a pleasant week at the waterside with his family.

When he returned to his lab, Senor Sloppy discovered a mold had contaminated his experiment.

Surprise? No.

But as he looked more closely at the mold, he noticed that it had neutralized the influenza cells.

By golly.

From this unexpected mold, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and, in the process, changed the world. His accident paved the way for the creation of antibiotics which now treat everything from acne to anthrax.

Accidental Success

Accidental Success

There are a lot of stories from history in which the resulting success was far different than the expected goal.

In 1989, Pfizer scientists were searching for a cure for heart disease. But while testing their heart pill they noticed that their male subjects were experiencing a rush of blood in, well, an area quite a bit south of the heart. Instead of heart disease, the scientists accidentally cured erectile dysfunction. And that’s how Viagra was born.

Leo Baekeland was a chemist in the early 1900s when he tried to discover a new resin. His motivation? He thought discovering a new resin was the quickest way to make a lot of money. Unfortunately, he failed to create a new resin. But in his failure he accidentally created polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride. You know it better as “plastic”. Leo made a crap ton of money, but not in the way he expected.

Ok, last one.

Shortly after the time of Jesus, Chinese monks were trying to find a solution for eternal life because, well, why not. During one experiment they mixed some gobbledygook together and – kaboom! They accidentally discovered gunpowder – perhaps the most ironic of all accidental inventions. Instead of extending life, they developed a way to shorten it.

Accidental Success

Unexpecting the Expected

We all have expectations of what we want to accomplish. Sometimes it involves expectations for ourselves and sometimes for others.

Either way, the more you are set on achieving your expected result, the more disappointed you can feel when you don’t get what you hope for.

If you’re hoping to launch a highly successful video game, like the company Tiny Speck tried to do, it’s disappointing when you can’t even get it out of beta. (more on that in a second)

It is easy to feel like a failure when you don’t meet your expectations. I feel that way a lot because I have high expectations for myself, oftentimes higher than I can achieve.

But the path to success is littered with twists and turns and more than a few ego-deflating spikes in the road. And the vision you have for your success is often quite different from the reality of what you achieve.

But you aren’t a failure. Failing is the unwillingness to even start the journey. Once you start towards your goal, whatever your goal may be, your only real failure is letting expectations get in the way of success.

It’s time for you to unexpect the expected.

It’s easy to believe that your expectations are a GPS system guiding you toward your ultimate destination. They aren’t. They are more of a suggested direction toward an unknown horizon.

There is something grand at the end of the road on the journey to meet your goals, it just may not be what you expected.

Take that company Tiny Speck that I mentioned up above. Their video game, Glitch, didn’t last for much more than a year before it was trashed. But what did last was Linefeed, the internal messaging system they had created. When the game was closed down, the Tiny Speck leaders realized that their communication tool was pretty darn good. So they changed the name, released the product, and changed the world.

And that’s how Slack was created. By failure.

If you think you’ve got failure in your life, it’s time to look again. I guarantee there is success hidden in the corners of your disappointment. Remember, you don’t uncover a diamond without a lump of coal.

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    A Somewhat Relevant Quote

    Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.

    William Ritter, novelist, painter, Swiss guy


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