The story referenced Scotsmen John Shepherd-Barron and James Goodfellow. Shepherd-Barron is widely credited as the inventor of the cashpoint. Goodfellow is little known, but patented an ATM a year before Shepherd-Barron unveiled his version.
Despite being second, Shepherd-Barron got an OBE and the attention of the history books. Goodfellow simply got angry and forgotten.
It’s a particularly unfair outcome given Goodfellow’s card-operated machine is the one we are all familiar with today. Even though Shepherd-Barron gained all the credit, his version used radioactive paper tokens and didn’t catch on.
The point Dave makes is the first to get noticed by the masses (or noticed by those who influence the masses) gets remembered by the masses.
Who was first chronologically – or even who was better – is by the by.
In support of the point, Dave Trott cites other examples. Such as Pablo Picasso being credited with inventing cubism when it was actually Georges Braque. And the American Thomas Edison being thought of as the inventor of the lightbulb, when Englishman Joseph Swan was inventing – and patenting – a bulb in precisely the same year, 1879.
Such was the synchronicity between Edison and Swan’s work, their companies merged in 1883 to form a business called ‘Ediswan’. But Swan completely lost out to Edison in the who-got-remembered stakes.
And this is what struck a chord with me as it’s a fact I have bitter personal experience of.
My lightbulb moment
I was about 10 years old. It was a whole-school assembly and the headmaster asked everyone who invented the lightbulb.
My hand shot up.
“Joseph Swan, sir!” I said confidently. (I’ve no idea how I knew this back then. But join me at a pub quiz today and you’ll find I’m not so hot at classic stuff like naming the wives of Henry VIII, yet have a peculiar ability to remember weird shit.)
“Who?!” said the headmaster, scornfully. “No! Wrong! It was Thomas Edison!”
I blushed, friends chuckled, and that was that.
40 years later and Dave Trott’s mention of Swan and Edison brought the memory flooding back.
And it made me realise two things.
The first is the point Dave makes in the book: we remember the people, the things, the brands that stake a claim in our consciousness.
The second relates to that day in school and the question from the headmaster.
When we answer a question or solve a problem, what answer are we seeking to provide? Are we considering the person posing the question and giving them the right answer in their eyes, or the right answer in ours? Is it better to give the answer we feel is right or the answer we know is right?
Unplug your head, plug in your heart
Understanding the answers others are seeking and is a valuable skill.
When I worked at Asda during my A-levels, there was a sign on the door leading to the shop floor. It said that Asda only had two rules. Rule 1: the customer is always right. Rule 2: if the customer is wrong, re-read rule 1.
In other words, empathy trumps accuracy.
At the recent charity quiz in the village, we were asked how many villages there are between us and A350 at Wylye.
An easy enough question until a caveat was added… “according to Google Maps.”
After pondering the likely way Google Maps might view the Wyle Valley, we decided it to be one less that the actual figure. We bet on Google missing off a particular hamlet, which although clearly signed on the road might have been missed by the big G.
We were right.
But sometimes you have to dig a little deeper and see beyond the answers others are giving.
Henry Ford, speaking on the invention of the motor car, said that if he’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.
Here, the customer-pleasing answer would seem to have been setting up a business selling low-cost racehorses.
But the truly empathic one – the one that understood what people were really seeking – had four wheels and an engine.