(p. 6) “Accident” is not really the best word to describe such fortuitous discoveries. Accident implies mindlessness. Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the American continent was pure accident–he was looking for something else (the Orient) and stumbled upon this, and never knew, not even on his dying day, that he had discovered a new continent. A better name for the phenomenon we will be looking at in the pages to follow is “serendipity,” a word that came into the English language in 1754 by way of the writer Horace Walpole. The key point of the phenomenon of serendipity is illustrated in Walpole’s telling of an ancient Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip (set in the land of Serendip, now known as Sri Lanka): “As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”
Accidents and sagacity. Sagacity–defined as penetrating intelligence, keen perception, and sound judgment–is essential to serendipity. The men and women who seized on lucky accidents that happened to them were anything but mindless. In fact, their minds typically had special qualities that enabled them to break out of established paradigms, imagine new possibilities, and see that they had found a solution, often to some problem other than the one they were working on. Accidental discoveries would be nothing without keen, creative minds knowing what to do with them.
Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.
(Note: italics in original.)