Selected by Ken Robinson

The accidental invention of the colour mauve was made in 1856 by William Perkin. William was trying to develop a synthetic version of quinine and had been experimenting with coal tar. He kept failing. One night, after another day of dead ends, he was about to leave the laboratory when the light from the gas lamp glanced off the edge of a beaker. The beaker was filled with a coal tar solution and shot out a brilliant purple light. He was curious, diluted the mixture and discovered a colour that isn’t in nature at all. William, a painter and photographer, took a keen interest in his new discovery.

The colour became a sensation and William went on to found the synthetic dye industry, which in turn led to the development of the chemical industry at large, including the chemicals for the photographic industry. It also contributed to chemistry being taken seriously as a commercial and academic discipline. All of this began with William Perkin failing to do what he set out to do, but seeing a different possibility in what he had done.

About Ken Robinson

Ken Robinson is an expert in the field of creativity and innovation in business and education. His visionary consultancy skills are employed by governments, major corporations and cultural organisations worldwide. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of London for research into drama and theatre in education. He was the principal author of The Arts in Schools: Principles, Practice and Provision, Director of The Arts in Schools Project, and Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. He was Professor of Education at Warwick University in the U.K. and is now Professor Emeritus. Among other roles he is currently senior advisor to the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. In June 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his outstanding achievements as a writer, speaker and leader in creativity, the arts and education.