We are told that many discoveries happened by accident. In reality, there has been very little that was accidental about them.
For the most part, these so-called accidents have only been opportunities, carefully improved by genius.
It is doubtful that any great permanent success ever was the outcome of blind chance.
We hear a great deal about the wonderful things chance has wrought, but we seldom take the time to examine them.
Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) was a great French painter in the French Baroque style. It was said of Poussin that, “Whatever was worth doing at all was worth doing well.” That rule governed his life. Late in life, a friend asked him by what means he had gained such a reputation among the painters of Italy. Poussin emphatically answered, “Because I have neglected nothing.”
Dr. Thomas Young (1773-1829), an English physicist, confirmed through tests that light waves cause interference. The brilliantly colored soap bubbles blown through a common tobacco-pipe suggested to Dr. Young his beautiful theory of “interferences.” It led to his discovery relating to the diffraction of light.
Young and early geniuses like him were ready to detect the significance of the most familiar and simple facts. His greatness consisted mainly of his wise interpretation of the facts he observed.
The difference between people consists, in a great measure, to the intelligence of their observation. A Russian proverb says of the nonobservant individual, “He goes through the forest and sees no firewood.”
“The wise man’s eyes are in his head,” says Solomon. “But the fool walketh in darkness.” The mind sees as well as the eye. Where unthinking gazers observe nothing, people of intelligent vision penetrate into the very fiber of the phenomena presented to them. They note differences. They make comparisons. Finally, they recognize their underlying idea.
We all know about Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). He was a brillant Italian physicist, mathematician, philosopher and astronomer.
Galileo’s achievements include the first systematic studies of uniformly accelerated motion. He made improvements to the telescope and a variety of astronomical observations. Galileo is often referred to as the “father of modern astronomy;” the “father of modern physics,” and the “father of science.” Quite a resume’.
Many before Galileo had seen a suspended weight swing before their eyes with a measured beat. Galileo, however, was the first to detect the value of this fact.
One of the vergers in the cathedral at Pisa, after replenishing with oil a lamp that hung from the roof, left it swinging back and forth; Galileo, only 18, noted it attentively. Imagine, at only 18, Galileo conceived the idea of applying the swinging of the lamp to the measurement of time. Obviously, genius has no age limit be it young or old.
Fifty years of study and labor, however, elapsed before Galileo completed the invention of his pendulum. One cannot over rate the importance of his discovery for the measurement of time and in astronomical calculations.
Galileo heard that Hans Lippershey, a Dutch spectacle-maker, had presented to Count Maurice of Nassau an instrument that showed distant objects much closer than in actuality. Galileo addressed himself to the cause of such a phenomenon, which led to the invention of the telescope and proved the beginning of the modern science of astronomy.
Modern times have had many great discoveries too. Joe Morton was traveling throughout SE Asia when he tasted a fruit made from the mangosteen tree. He said it was the best tasting fruit he had ever sampled. He soon learned that for centuries folk medicine had used the mangosteen fruit to treat many diseases in SE Asia.
Joe then wondered if the fruit had any commercial application. To his surprise and delight, there were no commercial uses of the fruit at the time. Joe saw a big opportunity knocking at his door! Thus, was born a modern day phenomenon known as XanGo, a functional health beverage. XanGo likely will reach one billion dollars in revenues faster than any previous company in US history will. Joe Morton’s discovery has resulted in a completely new category of product.
A negligent observer or a passive listener could not have made such a significant discovery. Millions of people in SE Asia had tasted the mangosteen fruit before Joe Morton. Only Joe Morton saw the potential to commercialize and make a business out of the fruit.
Captain (afterward Sir Samuel) Brown (1774-1851) was studying the construction of bridges. He wanted to construct a cheap one so that he could build one where he lived. As was walking one dewy autumn day in his garden, he saw a tiny spider’s net suspended across his path. The idea immediately occurred to him, that a bridge of iron ropes or chains might be constructed in like manner. It was then that he conceived of the idea for the invention of his suspension bridge.
James Watt turned his attention one day to the shell of a lobster; from that model, he invented an iron tube. When Watt laid down this tube, it showed him how to transport water in tubes that led to all kinds of discoveries.
It is the intelligent eye of the careful observer, which gives these apparently trivial phenomena their value. So trifling a matter as the sight of seaweed floating past his ship enabled Columbus to quell the mutiny, which arose amongst his sailors at not discovering land, and to assure them that the eagerly sought New World was not far off.
It is the close observation of little things that is the secret of success in business, in art, in science, and in every pursuit in life.
Human knowledge is but an accumulation of small facts, made by successive generations of people. These carefully prized little bits of knowledge and experience in time develop into a mighty pyramid.
Though many of these facts and observations seemed at first to have slight significance, they all had their eventual uses when fitted into their proper places.
In the case of the conic sections discovered by Apollonius Pergaeus, 20 centuries elapsed before they became the basis of astronomy; a science that enables the modern navigator to steer his way through unknown seas and traces in the heavens an unerring path to his appointed place of safety.
Does chance contribute to permanent success, only if you believe in fairy tales? It is the close observation of little things that make the difference between successes and failures.
Copyright 2007 by Robert L. Bergeth