The convergence of knowledge in the 21st Century is enabling breakthroughs (not the incremental improvements) to come from sources not directly related to the area receiving the value. This is further proof of one of my innovation principles that we must look in all directions for ideas and innovation for our needs. Specifically in places that are ancillary or even obscure.
Here are a few examples I have come across:
(1) Mark Bear, a basic scientist, similar to a researcher involved in first principle scientific R&D, has made discovery about a system in the brain that regulates synapses. The direct results is drug being tested on humans with autism that are producing results with one dose. Read / listen to details here.
(2) I call this example "Adjacency To Be". This article here and here in The Economist (Sept, 2008) talks about how the Large Hadron Collider will provide insights into areas that were not planned. Yet the Economist also states, "The Large Hadron Collider, ... is a grand project that could yield all sorts of discoveries. Yet the easiest way to sell it to politicians was to frame it as a search for a single particle, the Higgs boson."