Shape the Future Series: Alternative spotting – Archimedes

Shape the Future Series: Alternative spotting – Archimedes

Aero_img084As we continue our journey into the mindsets required for entrepreneurial endeavour, we come to one of ancient Greece’s most famous and interesting characters.  In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of Trend-spotting and profiled Marian Salzman.  In this post we look at the attitude of Alternative Spotting which forms part of the Adapting mindset under the pillar of Spirit of Significance.  The adapting mindset is all about being able and willing to make changes and to adjust your behaviour or way of doing things to meet new or changing circumstances.

We define the attitude of being Alternative Spotting as visualising or recognising a range of new possibilities for an existing process.

When Archimedes famously ran naked through the streets of ancient Greece yelling “Eureka!”, little did he know what impact his bath time antics would have on the world of science and mathematics.  While his public display no doubt raised more than a few eyebrows, the cause of his euphoria had far more enduring affects.  Archimedes had experienced a flash of inspiration and discovered an alternate and effective way to measure the volume of an object with an irregular shape.

It all began with King Hieron II of Syracuse who had commissioned a goldsmith to make him a crown.  Having given the goldsmith a certain amount of gold for its production, the suspicious King feared that the smith had substituted some of it with cheaper silver, keeping the rest for himself.  The King called on mathematician and inventor, Archimedes to find a way to prove whether or not the crown was solid gold.  Merely weighing the crown wouldn’t work as the same weight of silver could be substituted.

What Archimedes needed to do was measure the crown’s volume, which was virtually impossible to do on such an irregularly shaped object.  His eureka moment began with the realisation that the water level rose when he climbed into a bath, thereby discovering an alternative to measure an objects volume, by measuring its displacement of water.  By being aware of his needs and keeping his mind open to possibility, Archimedes was able to solve his dilemma in a creative and highly effective way, proving that there are always alternative ways to think about and solve problems.

Like Archimedes, some of our Allan Gray Fellows are already showing high levels of problem solving and alternative spotting.  Fellows like Kholofelo Moyaba  for example, found an alternative way for commuters to plan their journeys when he conceptualised the GoMetro android app.  Or a group of Fellows found an alternative way for people to help under resourced schools through a crowd funding platform, called Eduvator. Or Siyabulela Xuza, who came up with an alternative fuel source for rockets.

Similar to Leonardo Da Vinci,  Archimedes was a polymath, skilled in the disciplines of Mathematics, Physics, Engineering and Astronomy. He was also a prolific inventor.  In addition to the Archimedes Principle (briefly outlined above) Archimedes was also responsible for developing the Archimedes Screw, a revolving screw-shaped blade inside a cylinder. It was used to transfer water from a low-lying body of water into irrigation canals. This invention is still in use today.  His biggest contribution though was to the discipline of Mathematics.  His work during ancient times revolutionised studies in geometry, calculus but especially noteworthy was his discovery of the relation between the surface and volume of a sphere.

In his relentless pursuit of alternative ways to think and solve problems, Archimedes kept pushing the boundaries of the various disciplines he pursued until he could say that now famous word “Eureka!” which translates to “I have found it!”.  In fact, there is a phenomenon now called the eureka effect

What opportunities or challenges are you grappling with at the moment which an alternative spotting mindset could help you with?  I look forward to reading your comments.

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