This is the story of the search to solve one of the most difficult scientific problems of the eighteenth century, how to determine longitude. Thousands of lives had been lost at sea over the centuries owing to the inability to determine an east-west position. To solve the problem, a prize was offered that amounted to a fortune in today’s currency.
While some of most brilliant scientists of the day sought to find a solution through astronomy, self-taught English clockmaker John Harrison devoted much of his life to finding a solution by making an accurate clock. Harrison imagined a mechanical solution – a clock that would precise time at sea.
By measuring the angle of the sun at noon and comparing it with that of a fixed point like Greenwich, one could calculate one’s longitude. Most scientist of the day discounted the idea of the clock because there were too many variables at sea. They were certain that changes in temperature, air pressure, humidity, and gravity would inevitability render a clock inaccurate.
After years of work, Harrison developed a clocks that would work abroad a ship at sea and keep time to within the tolerances required to maintain required to maintain enough accuracy to fight longitude. But once he found the solution, Harrison had to battle with the Board of longitude and its commissioners to get it accepted and so win prize.
He underwent a long series of unfair trails and demonstrations. Ultimately he received recognition, after years of dealing with incompetence, stupidity, arrogance, and closed-minded blindness, and was awarded the Copley Medal in recognition of his work by the British Royal Astronomical society, an award that was later bestowed on persons such as Benjamin Franklin, Captain James Cook, and Albert Einstein. Harrison’s clock was proven accurate in 1762, but it was not until 1773 that he received the prize money.
De-briefing of this Story
This story is an example of narrow mindedness of people. We only value views of people who have degrees from esteemed universities or who are at higher position in a company. But a good idea can come from anywhere. John Harrison went to such an extent for fighting for his idea but not everyone will. Make sure your company cultures values the views of everyone and not only of those who are on top.
Jack Welch (former CEO of G.E.) solve this challenge by starting a program know as workout. Read this story to know more about that – Boss -Stop Talking
This story can be used to share the importance of
1- Empowering Employees
2- Process improvement
3- Bottom up thinking
The Leader’s guide to Storytelling by Stephen Denning