Monday, 16 July 2018

The glass harmonica: a story of creativity and innovation (No.3)

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 third aspect:

Franklin was patient with the process of innovation but demanding of the people with whom he worked.

Whilst developing the glass harmonica Franklin was patient with the creative process, accepting that there would be mistakes and failures along the way, but intolerant of what he saw as the ill-disciplined work of others. His comments about the work of his glassblowers are a prime example of this intolerance:

"I am vex'd with Mr. James that he has been so dilatory in Mr. Maddison's armonia. I was unlucky in both the workmen that I permitted to undertake making those instruments. The first was fanciful, and could never work to the purpose, because he was ever conceiving some new improvement that answer'd no end: the other is absolutely idle. I have recommended a number to him from hence, but must stop my hand." 
(From Angelic Music: The Story of Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica by Corey Mead)

This combination of patience and demandingness encouraged Franklin and the people he worked with to engage in purposeful innovation: mistakes and failures were an expected and accepted part of the process but only when they occurred as a result of thoughtfully directed activity.
Franklin probably tolerated thoughtful and imaginative experiments that led to flawed and cracked bowls, knowing that the lessons learnt would eventually lead to the creation of perfect bowls which could be used within the glass harmonica. On the other hand, flights of unthinking creative fancy that led to unusable bowls were definitely perceived by Franklin as a waste of time and money (and, importantly, creative energy).

To read the next post click here.     

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