Innovation Heros. John Harrison

It seems unlikely that we can go back nearly 300 years to find a story of innovation and crowd-sourcing, but we can and it’s a fantastic story.

The ‘Longitude problem’ was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day – and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasingly the fortunes of nations hung on a resolution.

In 1714 the British Parliament put up a £20,000 prize (which in those days really was a Kings Ransom) for anyone that could solve the ‘Longitude problem’ which attracted the brightest minds from the scientific establishment throughout Europe – from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton.

Longitude the story of the lone genius who solved the greatest sceintific problem of the timeOur hero, John Harrison, far from being from the intellectual elite was a humble watch maker who dared to imagine a mechanical solution. While the intelligentsia were focused on the celestial skies, maths and algorithms, Harrison started with what he already knew which was that if you know what time the sun rose and set you could accurately tell the latitude – all he had to do therefore was to make a clock that worked at sea. Remember that clocks and timepieces of the time relied on a pendulum and of course pendulums stop working when a ship starts to roll on the waves.  Harrison was a gifted watch maker and he won the prize – he out-innovated the brightest minds of the time by simply focussing all his efforts on making a watch that accurately told the time whilst at sea.

The lessons in this story;

– Innovation doesn’t have to be brand new and ground breaking – the solution may be right under your noses

– The killer idea can come from anywhere, you never know, don’t dismiss participation from anyone

It’s a great story and I would recommend it to anyone