Louis Pasteur is famous for saying that “chance favors only the prepared mind.” Entrepreneurs know, all too well, how both preparedness and luck can factor into innovation and ultimately, success.
Being prepared and open to chance encounters that occur on the path to innovation can make the difference between failure and success. Because of this, knowing how to fully leverage serendipitous moments can be a formidable advantage for any company, large or small. Successful entrepreneurs learn to keep their eyes and minds open for the unexpected—surprises that compel them to test new hypotheses and propel them toward fresh ideas and solutions that were not part of their original plans.
“You have to be sharp, targeted, and focused, but you also have to be lucky,” says James Flynn, co-founder of Sticki, a startup that produced an intelligent cloud-based touchscreen that has become a staple feature in the Samsung Family Hub™ smart refrigerators.
Entrepreneurs like Flynn don’t discount the need for preparation. Nor do they suggest throwing away standard execution processes that keep startup teams aligned. “But in my experience, more often than not, true innovation has been the result of exhaustive preparedness meeting good old-fashioned luck,” Flynn says.
Unplanned events can, of course, feel jarring. They can disorient teams and put stress on everyone involved. At the same time, they can be a gateway to innovations far beyond what entrepreneurs could have originally imagined.
Take Sticki. Flynn and his co-founder Mara Segal were entrepreneurs in residence (EIRs) at Samsung NEXT. Initially, they were working with Bluetooth beacons—technology that enabled smartphones, tablets, and other devices to perform specified actions when close to a programmed Bluetooth signal. For example, a shopping list could pop up on your tablet as you approached the kitchen. Flynn and Segal’s goal was to help families share their schedules and in general communicate better while in the home. But beacon technology wasn’t quite ready. Frustrated with repeated failures after 18 months of product development, Segal told the Samsung NEXT management team that they were shutting down the project. Flynn and Segal were urged to try again but this time with something new.
With all the duo had learned in the previous 18 months, they were encouraged and ready to take on the challenge. Segal focused the team on the kitchen, the center of family life for centuries. The team took their most promising beacon idea and transformed it into a virtual whiteboard and calendar-sharing device. The large touch-sensitive screen would be mounted in the kitchen, and software would drive its ability to let families do everything from sharing photos and schedules, to leaving notes for each other and being reminded of doctor appointments, athletic practice or other important events.
Without a doubt, Flynn and Segal were fully prepared this time. The serendipitous moment came when a Samsung engineer handed Flynn and Segal the screen dimensions of the Samsung Family Hub™ smart refrigerator when it was still in the blueprint stage.
“We were extraordinarily lucky,” Flynn says today. “We didn’t know when we started our project that Samsung was planning a refrigerator with a screen in it, but as soon as we discovered that, we had our true north.”
The team focused on designing for Family Hub™. The end result was a cloud-connected touchscreen and dashboard—called StickiBoard—that helps busy families stay in sync across multiple devices. And it turned out to be the perfect product for Samsung to integrate into its Family Hub™ refrigerators.
Without their arduous preparedness—as challenging as it was at the time—Flynn and Segal would not have been ready to take advantage of the opportunity that fell in their laps. And without the serendipitous parallel development of the Family Hub™ refrigerator, all their preparation may have come to naught.
“The second time around, we were a bit more deliberate, realistic and strategic about the whole thing, so that was in our favor,” says Flynn. “But the timing couldn’t have been more perfect as well. Everything just came together.”