In 2010 Andre Gaim and Kostya Novoselov from Manchester University received a Nobel Prize for their work isolating graphene. Many people had tried before without success. Their method? Simple. Scotch tape which they stuck to ordinary graphite, pulled and what came off with the tape was a single cell layer. Job done.
Scientists had used Scotch tape to clean graphite before. Andre says, “what they did not realise was that by throwing away the Scotch tape, they were throwing away the Nobel Prize as well”. You can see the original dispenser that held the tape in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Along with cotton looms, hydraulic pumps and Turing’s computer, it’s up there amongst items that that have revolutionised our lives.
When Andre talks about his research with Kostya, I’m struck by how much he credits the playfulness and sense of adventure they had together. ‘Better to be wrong than to be boring’, he says.
Whether you are searching for a game changing scientific breakthrough or thinking about how to take your organisation, career, or relationships forward, their story encourages us to stop and take a breath. Much organisational life is based on being serious, thinking things through logically, examining the evidence. I’m quite sure Andre and Kostya knew their subject. Rationale and research were bound to be integral to their work too, yet the breakthrough of Nobel proportions came when there was also curiosity, experimentation and fun.
Perhaps it is worth asking what’s your Scotch tape? What’s under your nose that you are ignoring, discounting or seeing with only one purpose in mind? What if you could play more, take a risk, have an adventure? Who is the playmate who shares your curiosity, with whom do you bounce the silliest of ideas in the easiest of ways? And what if we could all start creating organisations where this was the norm, where rules, regulations, structures and processes were all designed to help us play, create, search, experiment and enjoy.