The winding road to success – lessons from historical innovators

The winding road to success - lessons from historical innovators

Here at contentgroup, we work with our mission front of mind always. If what we’re doing doesn’t achieve our mission of helping government and the public sector strengthen communities and improve the well-being of citizens through effective content communication, we don’t do it.

To help us in this, we have a specific set of values and mantras that we rely on to support us in making decisions. I recently attended the Canberra iAwards where world-renowned anthropologist and professor at the Australian National University Genevieve Bell gave a keynote speech. In it, she spoke about the lessons we can continue to learn from famous (and not so famous) innovators from throughout history who’ve shaped the world in which we now live. It struck me how each one embodied one of the contentgroup values or mantras. These ones were my favourites:

Thomas Edison

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

If you Google Thomas Edison’s talking doll, you’ll notice that every result highlights the failure of one of America’s greatest inventors (1847 – 1931). Created in 1890, the talking doll was the first example of sound being recorded and then played back within the same product. The technology behind it was ground breaking; it integrated sound playback and miniature machines into a 22-inch doll. Nonetheless, it was a complete and utter commercial disaster.

Although the doll had many technical faults that Edison endeavoured to improve, the main reason for its commercial failure was that it did not offer any value to consumers. The doll was about 56cm tall, weighed about 2kgs, its voice was positively ghoulish and it cost between $10 and $20 (what would be a whopping $237 – $574 today).

The lesson here is that, above all else, you must offer something of value, something relevant, to your audience. If you don’t listen to your audience, no product or service no matter how technologically advanced or ahead of its time is going to be successful.

contentgroup value: Listening.

Marie Curie

“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.

Two-time Nobel Prize winner (1903 and 1911) Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) did not cease contributing to the world when World War I broke out in 1914. Instead, disheartened by the trauma brought about by the war, she became determined to do everything in her power to lessen the suffering.

As such, Curie created her mobile x-ray machines, Petite Curies, to treat shrapnel wounds and other injuries on the frontline. With the same intense energy and passion she used to discover radium, she went about raising money for radiology equipment and convinced automobile manufacturers to turn their cars into vans that could transport the equipment to where it was needed. This was an incredible feat, since most hospitals didn’t even have x-ray departments at this point in time. Curie taught herself to drive, feverishly studied anatomy books, enlisted her 17-year-old daughter Irene as an assistant, hired a military doctor and went to the frontlines herself.

It is estimated that more than a million wounded soldiers were treated with Marie Curie’s Petit Curie x-ray machines.

contentgroup value: Go beyond.

Henry Ford

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) relentlessly persevered for two years in his garage to complete his first experimental automobile. He was so engrossed in the development of his Quadricycle in 1896, he didn’t realise that the doorway of his garage was too narrow for his contraption to leave. Not perturbed – he broke down a brickwall of the garage to take it out for its first ride. The success this invention led to the founding of the Henry Ford Company. Ford’s idea was to make cars available to the every man, but not everyone agreed with his vision. Indeed, President Woodrow Wilson slammed it, labeling it “the new symbol of wealth’s arrogance”.

The lesson here: revolutionary ideas are always first met with resistence.

contentgroup value: Perseverance/resilience.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

“A genius in the art of living” – California Monthly, 1944

Do you know who holds the patents to the electric food mixer, shelves inside refrigerator doors and the rubbish bin with a foot-pedal lid opener? Did you know that the layout of a typical kitchen didn’t just come about with time, but had been carefully considered in order to maximise efficiency and organisation?

The woman behind these achievements and many more is Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878 – 1972) – inventor, author, industrial engineer, industrial psychologist and mother of 12. The above are just a few of the patents she’s got to her name and Gilbreth didn’t stop there – she also ran a successful ergonomics consulting firm with her husband Frank Gilbreth. After Frank’s untimely death in 1924 at the age of 56, Lillian went on to assume presidency of the company and remained active in research, lecturing and writing.

Although she is dubbed the “mother of modern management”, few people are aware of Lillian’s vast contributions to the everyday organisational processes we take for granted.

contentgroup value: Humility.

Listening, going beyond, and displaying perseverance, resilience and humility are all crucial values we at contentgroup strive to demonstrate in our work each day. We’ve taken the inspiration from some of history’s most innovative individuals, whose work has changed the world forever. Next stop? Achieving our own vision of becoming the world’s leading content communication agency for government and the public sector by 2020.

What values or mantras do you apply to your work each day?


Aagam has a Master of Computing with a double majors in computational foundations and professional computing from the Australian National University. Having completed his graduate studies last year, Aagam came to intern at contentgroup as a web developer. Now a full-time contentgroupie, Aagam is responsible for all things web and data.

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