Accidental heroes

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 17, 2006
Filed in Communication

Pasteur1One of my favourite quotes is:

“Where observation is concerned, chance favours only the prepared mind.” Louis Pasteur (1900)

Sensemaking is about preparing one’s mind. It starts with noticing things which are only noticeable when you’re prepared to see them. Our minds are prepared by a combination of experience and reflection. Take a look at this list of accidental discoveries. In each case it seems like a minor shift in perspective occurs for the discovery to be made. It seems to me, reading between the lines, that the discoverers where people who first had the ability (permission) to explore, an insatiable curiosity and through years of effort and persistence made a breakthrough. These conditions seem to be rare in organisations yet many leaders extol the virtues of innovation without preparing the environment for discovery.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. it’s even better in context of Pasteur’s speech. I’ve been so fascinated by the quote, I got the source and translated it:
    Enjoy 😉

  2. ken says:

    So do you think the prepared-mind already has the “knowledge” that let’s it see the “data” 🙂 Does it persevere on a gut feeling where others lack the passion to sense connections or fear not conforming to group norms (school/work)? How about a prepared body? Eureka! Take a bath and switch off the conscious mind (though, these days, more conservative folks recommend a shower 🙂 – or read a book before bed (and dream of benzene), or write to give voice to disconnected feelings, in turn priming more feelings (comments like scribbles in the margins 🙂

  3. Thanks Christian. It’s great to see the whole speech to put the quote (which is often misquoted) in context.

  4. Hi Ken, I don’t think the prepared-mind has the ‘knowledge’ as you say. Rather it prepares someone to notice what would otherwise remain invisible. As always your musings have struck a chord. Thanks.

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