Opinion: Why being first is everything

by Azuka Onwuka

The truth is that when an idea comes to your mind, chances are that the same idea is in the mind of other people. Maybe, another person had been thinking about the idea long before you. The world does not bother about who first started thinking of an idea. The world only crowns the person of action who acts first, especially if he also acts well.

How many times have you seen your idea being executed by someone else? Not that the person stumbled on your script and stole your idea. Not that he overheard you discuss the idea with somebody and stole it. Not even that you confided in him and he went to town with your idea. The truth is that when an idea comes to your mind, chances are that the same idea is in the mind of other people. Maybe, another person had been thinking about the idea long before you. The world does not bother about who first started thinking of an idea. The world only crowns the person of action who acts first, especially if he also acts well.

Does the name Alexander Graham Bell ring a bell? It sure does. But have you ever heard of the name Elisha Gray? No doubt, that name must sound grey and bland to you. Gray was no less an inventor than Bell. In the 1870s, both men independently designed devices that could transmit speech electrically (the telephone). Both men rushed their respective designs to the patent office within hours of each other. But Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone first (in 1876). A legal battle ensued between the two over the invention of the telephone. Fortunately for Bell but unfortunately for Gray, Bell won.

But that is not the end of the story about the invention of the telephone. If you asked an Italian, who invented the telephone, you would most likely not hear Bell but Antonio Meucci. That Italian brother or sister is not talking without reason because the Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti (Italian Encyclopedia of Science, Literature and Art) calls Antonio Meucci the “inventore del telefono” (inventor of the telephone). Why? About 20 years before Bell got the telephone patent, Meucci, who was living in Havana, Cuba then, had developed a form of voice communication apparatus. On December 28, 1871 (five years before Bell was given the telephone patent), Meucci filed a patent caveat – he did not have enough money to apply for the patent proper – for the telephone (#3335). He renewed it annually with $10.00. By 1874, Meucci, who was very poor, could no longer afford to renew the caveat. So, it expired.

Meucci later learnt that the Western Union affiliate laboratory reportedly lost his working models which he had kept there for safety. Coincidentally, Alexander Graham Bell was conducting his telephone experiments in the same laboratory where Meucci’s materials had been stored and lost. Knowing that Meucci’s caveat had expired, Bell acted fast by filing for a telephone patent in 1876 and got it. He promptly commercialised it and made good money from it through the Bell Company. All attempts to cancel the Bell patent failed. Bell had money to hire good lawyers; Meucci was too poor to get a good lawyer (he was only able to get as his lawyer an orphan he had trained.) Bell’s lawyers were able to prove that Meucci’s invention did not contain any such elements of an “electric” speaking telephone. Tragically, while the case was still on, Meucci died in 1889 and the case was discontinued.

One hundred and thirteen years after (in 2002), on the initiative of the Italian-American congressman, Vito Fossela, the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Resolution 269 noted among other things: “If Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell.” It went on to resolve as follows: “That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognised, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged.” That was the best poor Meucci got.

If we move away from human beings to animals, there is something to emulate from the cheetah. Everybody knows that the cheetah is the fastest of all land animals. It can reach speeds between 112 kilometres per hour (70 mph) and 120 kilometres per hour (75 mph) in short bursts up to 460 metres (500 yd). It has the ability to accelerate from 0 to 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph) in three seconds, faster than most super cars. Yet, if the cheetah goes hunting 100 times, on the average, it succeeds in catching its prey only 50 out of those 100 times. Why does such a speed machine have such a low (50 per cent) success rate? The cheetah is made in such a way that when it runs so fast, its body temperature rises so high that the cheetah could die if it continues. So it knows that its ability to feed depends on its speed. The cheetah cannot start a chase unless it has stalked its prey to within 10 metres, and must end the chase within a minute, whether successful or unsuccessful. If it fails to catch its prey within a minute, it stops and rests. But if it catches its prey and kills it, it quickly eats as much of it as it can before other stronger predators appear. Unlike the leopard, which takes its kill up a tree for safety, the cheetah cannot climb. And unlike most predators which hunt by scent and vision, the cheetah hunts by vision. Therefore, speed is key to the cheetah’s success and survival.

You may not take off with the speed of a cheetah, but it is very important you take off somehow. Ideas rule the world. But ideas don’t drop from the sky. Men and women spend sleepless nights and days to come up with them. A good idea may be difficult to come by, but there is one thing that is not difficult to come by: fact. It is a fact that human beings must eat food and drink water. It is a fact that the more the human beings in a community increase in number, the greater their demand for food and water and shelter and clothing. Most great ideas come from these simple facts. But it is one thing to know these facts and another thing to turn them into profitable ideas.

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(Excerpts from the 324-page, life-changing book by Azuka Onwuka: 20 Success Secrets of Great Achievers)

Azuka Onwuka tweets from @BrandAzuka

 
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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