You Create History!

A 34 year old TV Series

There was a TV programme on UK TV 34 years ago called ‘Connections’ hosted by the erudite and enigmatic James Burke. It was a brilliant, thought provoking series that explained how engineering and technology is inherently linked to the history of the world. The episodes can now be found on YouTube the first is: Connections Episode 1. take a look, there is the rather interesting co-incidence from our knowledge of recent history today around flight 911 but this episode is about the great power outage that occurred in the USA in 1965. All very interesting but I can hear a few of you saying.. this post has the iconic image of a Spitfire so what is the connection with that and achievement?

Iconic Outline

The Spitfire Story

I am currently reading the excellent book “The Decisive Duel”  by David Isby. The 1942 British film, The First of the Few directed by Leslie Howard tells the story rather well.

Many of you will know that R.J.Mitchell was the designer of the Spitfire. Mitchell was inspired by the gracious and efficient flight of seagulls and wanted to design a plane where the wings tail and body were all integrated, in stark contrast to the biplanes of the time. Working for Supermarine he designed the seaplanes that won the Schneider Trophy 3 years in succession securing it for Britain for posterity. So he went from vision to success. On winning the Schneider Trophy he stopped. He had achieved his aims, he started gardening.

Then Mitchell holidayed in Germany where a lot of energy was being put into gliding clubs and training pilots for civil aviation. Mitchell determines that Germany are advancing in more than just gliding and that there is an emerging, threatening agenda and returns to Britain with a new goal. “To ensure that Britain develops a state of the art fighter aircraft”. One that can combat the threat of long range bombers and be competitive against any fighter escorts those bombers may have. The British Government is a little complacent and unhurried and can spare no funding but eventually issue a specification for an aircraft to replace the Gauntlet but its a less ambitious specification then the one Mitchell is determined to build. Mitchell secures private funding and presses on but eventually gets a contract from the Air Ministry. Mitchell puts every waking hour into the programme and eventually dies of cancer in 1937 at the age of 42 two years before the start of WWII. The Spitfire is built, goes into service and is pivotal in the outcome of the Battle of Britain.

R J Mitchell’s Connections

So in terms connections:

  • Mitchell was inspired by the flight of seagulls
  • Technology was designed and refined through the drive to win the Schneider Trophy, probably more so because of the rule, win 3 years in succession and you retain the trophy it for all time.
  • Mitchell was convinced of the need for a British fighter before the Air Ministry and did a lot of the work as private venture
  • Mitchell was working to a self imposed deadline and in the end is driven by knowing how many months he has left to live
  • The outcome of the Battle of Britain is likely to have been quite different without the above

What all this means for you

So think about the work you do and what it enables. Everyone has a desire for purpose and “to make a difference”, think about your greatest achievements, you may not have designed a Spitfire but I guarantee you will have done things, designed something, closed a sale, formed a partnership, launched a product or service, signed a contract… without which the present situation for you or your company would be quite different.

Putting it all in perspective

  1. List your greatest achievements over the past 3-5 years, prioritise them to no more than the 6 most significant. Draw these out on a mind map as 6 branches.
  2. For each think about the activities, technologies business aspects these achievements enabled, create new branches for these and annotate them.
  3. For each of these think about what downstream activities were made possible technologies, new orders, new jobs, new acquisitions.
  4. Stop and look at the map, read all of the thing around the outer branches. See the example below.
  5. Just think, none of those things would have happened if it were not for one person taking action and making things happen YOU!


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