In January during our Technologies All-Hands I had a 5 minute segment to share a story around innovation and human creativity. I thought I’d convert it to an on-line version in this post. I hope you enjoy.
Let’s talk briefly about anthropology…
I recently read a book by Bill Bryson entitled “At Home: A Short Story of Private Life”. In the book Bryson talks about a rectory built in 1851 that he and his wife purchased in England. While the basis of the book was to trace the roots of the various rooms and components of a home and how the 19 century rectory influenced our modern homes, what I want to share with you today is the theme of many of the stories Bryson relates about creativity, innovation, and improvements.
It is really astounding how creative humans can be and the advancement in technology, living conditions, health, and general life improvements that took place in the 18th and early 19th century through the Industrial Revolution.
The discovery or invention of gas lights, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, steamships, photography, anesthesia, electricity, mass-produced bars of soap and push-along lawn mowers. Everyone of these improvements started with a new bold way of looking at a problem and someone having the courage to try something new. Many of the inventors died poor, society outcasting them or not seeing the value of their ideas within their lifetime.
Take for example Captain James Cook. Scurvy killed nearly half of every crew on a long voyage, an estimated 2 million sailors died between 1500 and 1850 due to scurvy. Cook discovered if you gave citrus juices to sailors it prevented Scurvy. On his circumnavigation of the globe in 1768-1771 not a single person died of Scurvy on the voyage. Although the British awarded Cook the Copley medal for his findings it didn’t adopt Cook’s findings for another generation to supply the navy with citrus juice.
Sometimes the methods of invention were dangerous, Karl Scheele discovered 8 elements, receiving no credit for any of them in his lifetime. Part of his discovery method included tasting every substance he worked with. In 1786, he was found slumped over his workbench, dead from an accidental overdose.
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