If you want to paint a colorful future, do not dream small.
This is not the first time we have faced a world that seemed stacked against us. Think about life in 3,499 BC before the wheel was invented. Everything was made by, cooked by, or carried by homo sapiens, who came along in a simplier form beginning 300,000 years ago. Oxen were not used as beasts of burden until 7000 BC, so humans toiled on their own for a while before domesticating animals.
Even with oxen-drawn carts, men and women were not traveling that far, at least not in a single day before the invention of the most basic compass in 206 BC. As transportation needs and human’s capabilities expanded, the compass improved in the 12th century using iron needles—magnetized by striking with a lodestone containing iron. It would be another eight centuries before humans would have the liquid-filled magnetic compass we use today.
Dreamers gazing at the stars
Throughout history, humans have reached out to new places to market their goods, find new seeds, or learn what skills or tools existed in the nearby world. They dreamed while looking out to the stars, wondering if they held valuable stories and made up stories of their own as they named the stars long before there were books to read.
Looking to the present, picture our minds as fresh, open for new ideas, new inventions—a tabla rasa–to write the progress of our thoughts. What time better than now? We’re busy but many are not commuting. If you grab that scrap of time, you never know what your fertile mind might conjure.
What will be the next important invention?
When it comes to inventions, now we might question if the world really needed something like cast concrete, called Pozzolan, when it was invented in 27 BC, but that would be short sighted on our part. Concrete helped humans build larger and taller structures. It is cheaper than marble or wood, which are not available everywhere, and because of their size are hard to transport. And about those parking garages . . . at one time concrete and steel rebar helped stack thousands of cars. What will come next? Would you rely on your gasoline-powered car if you didn’t require it for transport? It has taken decades to reduce the size of the battery necessary to power an electric car (since the 1970s) and it is just now coming online in general production. Some ideas take a long time to percolate. All the more reason to get started.
Now that many carry their calendar on their wrist or in their computer, we are thankful to Julius Caesar in 45 BC for having devised a Roman Calendar resting on the shoulders of the Assyrian-Babylonian-Zoroastrian-Hebrew-Coligny calendars the relied on the movements of the sun and the moon. His calendar did not depend on observations of the new moon but followed an algorithm introducing a leap year every four years. The Gregorian calendar refined Caesar’s handiwork in 1582 and continues in worldwide use today, but there are modifications developed for use by various religions: Hebrew, Islamic, Hindu, and Zoroastrian. My Gregorian-based calendar appears on a white board to the right of my desk—a large visual reminder before I leave the room. Is there a better way?
Can the clock evolve further?
While today there are fewer clocks on the walls at home and office, for centuries starting around 3500 BC the Greeks and the people they ruled depended on solar placement in the sky and the sundial in the ruler’s domain. But parsing time is such a universal need that several mathematicians and scientists around the world toiled to perfect the clock:
- The 60-minute and 60-second divisions of time came from Sumeria in 2,000 BC
- Emperor Augustus in 293 BC had his scientific minions apply geometry to the equation.
- Greek Emperor Pluto developed a water-based alarm clock in 1st millennia BC.
- Islamic mathematicians in the 1300s devised a way to divide the day into equal hours.
- European scholars followed in 1400 to solve the elements of a “water” clock.
- Originally called a “daegmael” for dry measure in Old English; today’s “clock” comes from the French cloche in the 14th century.
- German inventor Peter Henlein created the first portable clock in 1504 and the first spring-loaded clock around 1511.
- Christian Huygens’ invention of the more accurate pendulum clock in 1656 made it a standard device in the home in 1656.
The point? No one person, nation or hemisphere has cornered the market on inventions. Though now the U.S. Patent Office investigates and approves a tremendous number of ideas turned into useful products each year. It might be a good place to determine if your idea has already been tested!
Dreams are yours alone. Ideas, inventions, new ways of addressing old ideas will be essential moving forward. You have your own unique take on life and have some ideas to try out. It is an opportunity like we’ve never had before. Sure, you can look on the other side of the ledger to see what has changed, been lost, will not work as before, but look beyond that.
Tie a Tether to Your Dream
Just take the required time to focus on a problem you want to solve. Inventions come as a result of a variety of people applying their perspective to a situation and taking time to consider a variety of ways to improve it. Once you have identified what you’d like to tackle, a bit of homework is required. Is it physically possible to create your dream? Do you know enough about to determine if there is a market for it? Are there people who will find it useful and buy it? Have your marketing idea well in hand before reaching out to find an investor to help you make it happen. In order to move your dream into reality you also need to check around the industry you plan to enter to see if it will be healthy or can be once the Pandemic settles down. It is important to invest your time, energy, and passion into something that will love you back. No matter what area you select, know that the process of discovery and invention operates globally, drawing on brainpower from across the globe.
For example, the development of instruments to mark the hours of the day and parse the hours of toil, recreation, and sleep came to perfection over centuries. No one country or religion provided all the answers. Individuals around the globe perfected the size and accuracy of the Westclox timepiece in London’s Big Bend, Egyptian installed sundials in the sand, a Frenchman developed pendulums, and a German down-sized the workings to create wrist-watches. All this grew out of centuries of modifying simple oblisques and sundials, the Greek’s water-based alarm clock, and the work of Islamic mathematicians to equalize the hours of day and night.
Think about a collaborator. Two minds are always better than one.
W.H. Creak, “The History of the Liquid Compass,” The Geological Journal, Vol. 56, No. 3, (1920), pp. 238-239.