Shape the Future Series: Persisting – Robert Kearns | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Shape the Future Series: Persisting – Robert Kearns

Shape the Future Series: Persisting – Robert Kearns

Unknown-7In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of initiating and profiled George Washington Carver.  This week we look at the attitude of persisting which forms part of the persuading mindset under the pillar of Personal Initiative.

The persuading mindset is all about trying a range of approaches to get somebody to agree with you or to do something encouraging, advising, urging or convincing.   We define the attitude of persisting as pursuing a desired goal relentlessly and tirelessly even in the face of opposition or against great odds

How far would you go to protect your idea?  Would you sacrifice your career, marriage, family and every cent that you owned?  One such person who did was Robert Kearns, an amateur inventor who developed the intermittent wiper blade system in the early 1960’s.  He was an engineer and, according to Wikipedia, a member of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II which was the organisation from which the CIA would eventually emerge.

Up until his invention, windscreen wipers had only one speed – a rapid, continuous movement – which was problematic when used during light rain and mist.

Kearns pitched his invention to the three big motor corporations of his time – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – but they all rejected his idea.  However, five years later, all three companies started using intermittent wipers on their cars.

Like any inventor worth his salt, Kearns first sued the Ford Motor Company, then Chrysler, for patent infringement claiming that they had stolen his circuit design.  Undaunted about being David to the motor industries Goliaths, Kearns doggedly pursued his case, determined to see justice served.

Putting everything on the line – his career, his marriage, his family and all the money he had – Kearns took up the fight.  After a 12 year battle, losing more than $10million in legal costs, and his marriage, the case finally went to trial.  Despite all the odds, Kearns won and Ford agreed to pay him $10million in settlement.  Two years later he also won his case against Chrysler, winning a further $30million.

Whilst Kearns made great personal sacrifices, as depicted in the movie Flash of Genius, his dogged persistence and extreme belief in his cause saw Kearns through to a victorious end (in terms of his case), proving that the “little guy” can triumph over giants when justice was on his side.

Next time you turn on your wiper blades, remember Robert Kearns and the challenges he persisted through.  How often do you give into temptations that distract you from the goals you are pursuing?  How can we take the positive aspects of his story and learn in terms of those areas of our own lives where we face resistance and challenges?

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