Why do researchers on the verge of breakthrough sometimes miss the discovery? While extensive literatures have modeled the course of successful discovery and pinpointed factors associated with groundbreaking discoveries, I focus on understanding why near misses occur by interviewing scientists who were very close to discovering the ribonucleic acid (RNA) interference breakthrough in biology but ultimately missed out. I identify three mechanisms rooted in paradigmatic rigidity that led to the seminal discovery being missed several times: not noticing or recognizing anomalies, actively resisting solutions, and failing to make the link between communities. These findings shed light on the process of breakthrough by clarifying that a better understanding of the mechanism behind near misses is crucial to mitigating them, saving time, and, consequently, boosting productivity and impact. They also have implications for boosting creative breakthrough performance in academic institutions and science-based firms, as well as for designing organizational research environments and guiding innovation strategy.
CHAI, S. (2017). Near Misses in the Breakthrough Discovery Process. Organization Science, 28(3), pp. 411-428.