J.J. Richardson – an unknown name to me until recently – must have had a most creative mind. He saw something, knew something, thought something, did something that took innovative imagination to a level unfathomable by me. I have no idea what he did with most of his life. Really, I know little to nothing about him. He lived and died way before my time, and I am sure – like all humans – he had his fair share of successes and failures, ups and downs, positives and negatives.
Though I have never met him and know only a thimble-full about him, what I do know is quite amazing. In fact, as odd as it may seem, I enjoy thinking about his invention, wondering exactly how he came up with it, and pondering just how and when it leapt off the list of innovative devices and into mainstream America. For sometime in 1863, J.J. Richardson invented a tool that I – even with my lack of skills and abilities in all things mechanical – use on a regular basis: the ratcheting socket wrench.
There are many times – with my not so nimble skills – that I reach for the ratcheting socket wrench to solve my woes when working on projects that involve nuts and bolts. It’s a great device – sturdy, dependable, simple, useful. It’s a go-to tool with little to no fanfare – a standard in today’s toolboxes.
Each time I hold the wrench, I wonder about its development. Was Mr. Richardson a home tinkerer who sought solutions to his individual challenges or was he an inventor who set out to improve the functionality of the world way beyond himself? When did he finish his invention? Did he know that he invented something for the ages? Did he even consider that someone like me would be using his invention 150+ years later? When he finished developing it, did he celebrate?
And finally, was there a moment when he smiled that smile that combines confidence, hope, panic, fear, and glee all in one?
Innovation is an interesting beast. And I have been lucky enough to live during a time of significant innovation. I would be remise if I didn’t mention the high-tech innovations of my time: the internet, computers, cellphones, the rocket ship, email, texting, wifi, the digital camera. But, I would be even more remise if I didn’t consider the lesser innovations that may have had equal impact on my life with less notoriety: plastic paint buckets with pourable spouts, self-rising flour, perma-press clothes, contact lenses, power washers.
Innovation isn’t only an interesting beast because it has made my life easier. My interest in innovation stems from something much different. Though I am 57 years into it, I am still looking for my role and responsibility with innovation. My search has been on for many years. It is the quest of my life time, a chase that is worth the effort because it is simply fun. I am looking for something that most likely has no end. With that said . . .
I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor side. Not sure. I have high hopes that one day in the future I will join J.J. Richardson or Tim Burners-Lee or Ruth R. Benerito and invent whatever it is that sets a new course for the world at large, but I don’t think that is the focus of my talents. I know several folks who are set to do so – youngsters, much younger than I with brilliant minds, and I am banking on their abilities to do so.
I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor-patron side. Not sure. I have high hopes that one day in the future, I will join the Scientific American Patent Agency or Berkshire Hathaway or Eli Lilly or NCSA and underwrite whoever it is who is inventing the next greatest innovation that reverses whatever tide needs to be reversed and rights whatever wrong needs to be righted. I know several folks and groups of folks who are set to do so, not necessarily young, but certainly those with financial wherewithal, and I am banking on their desire to do so.
For me, I am certain, actually fairly positive already, that I do have a role with innovation – a significant one, a necessary one, one that I enjoy and find myself entwined monthly, weekly, if not daily. It is within this area of innovation that I have high hopes that my talents fit. My slot doesn’t exactly call for me to have that brilliant mind nor does it require finances beyond my means and dreams. It does, however, require action and continued attention on my part.
I think my role is to encourage, to mentor, to be enthused. My role is to do the fancy-pants-dance when others share their innovative thoughts and ideas with me. My role is to be genuinely thrilled and supportive as I listen to whatever out-of-the-box idea I hear. My role is to say yes-yes-yes when everyone else around the most brilliant mind may be saying no-no-no. It is also my role to help those on the go with innovation navigate whatever waters they find challenging.
On the surface, my role may seem slight. But I have witnessed all too many times the demise of tremendous innovation due to lack of that spiritual support that helps to move crazy great ideas beyond conceptualization. I am a firm believer that everyone needs to hear that their ideas are worthy, more importantly they need to be shielded from hearing that their ideas are unworthy.
I know that one day someone will invent an invisibility cloak, a Jetson flying car, a wheelchair that never fails, and a cure for all cancers. And while these innovations are in progress, I am going to faithfully fulfill my role of being an enthusiast-extraordinaire. After all, it’s my role!