Friday, 20 July 2018

The glass harmonica: a story of creativity and innovation(No.5)

To see the previous posts in this series click here.

The way Benjamin Franklin thought, allied with some of his other qualities and the nature and extent of his knowledge, offers important insights into a creative mind that was capable of making practical and successful inventions and innovations. Six aspects are particularly significant.

Here is the fifth aspect:

Franklin was very generous with his ideas and innovations and encouraged others to use and develop them.

"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously."

The above quotation, from his autobiography, perfectly sums-up Franklin's generous attitude towards his ideas and inventions: he passionately believed that ideas and inventions, and the thinking and work that led to them, should be freely and widely shared. 

The glass harmonica was no exception to this rule, as this letter from Franklin to a European colleague demonstrates. It clearly describes the glass harmonica and provides details about how to make one. Franklin goes so far as to encourage his colleague, if so inclined, to go ahead and make the instrument.

Franklin's generous attitude is also demonstrated by the fact that he never took out patents on any of his ideas and inventions, which were many and varied. 

As well as being an enlightened thing to do, this free sharing achieved 3 important things:
  1. It helped Franklin's ideas and inventions become embedded and widely used within society.
  2. It helped and encouraged others to build upon and improve Franklin's ideas.
  3. It enabled people to adopt and adapt Franklin's ideas and inventions to their own contexts and uses.
In the case of the glass harmonica, it quickly became a popular and commonly played instrument of its time (with Mozart and Beethoven, among other composers, writing music for it). It was also gradually improved by others: the process of creating the glass bowls was greatly enhanced, superior quality glass was used to make the bowls, and the colour-coding of the various musical notes was simplified and made easy to understand. Lastly, people quickly adopted and adapted the glass harmonica to their own uses. An interesting example of this was the instrument's use within a form of medical therapy (Dr Mesmer's Mesmerism).

To read the next post click here.

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