Random Openness

Solutions to issues, problems, and risks; sources of innovation, creativity, and continuous improvement; all of these can often be found in unrelated fields through connections that are often put down to chance.  Simply remaining open to random serendipity, and casting your net widely, can enable that to happen.  The folding baby-buggy was based on the retractable undercarriage of a WWII Spitfire fighter plane; ideas for tank camouflage took inspiration from Picasso paintings; emergency hospital procedures have borrowed from the methods of Formula 1 pit teams.

A case in point: William Dampier was a privateer for most of his career, a pirate authorised by the British government to attack foreign shipping (government outsourcing is nothing new), operating in the late 1600s.  Importantly, he kept journals of his voyages – he was the first person to circumnavigate the world three times –  he made drawings of flora and fauna around the world, but principally from Central and South America, Indonesia and New Holland (Australia), and brought specimens back to Britain.  On one return, he brought with him a heavily tattooed Pacific Islander who helped promote the publication of his journals.

Dampier and his journals are now largely forgotten despite him having more than a dozen geographical features, mainly in Oceania, named after him: Mount Dampier, Dampier Strait, Dampier Island, Dampier Peninsula, Dampier Archipelago, etc.  But his journals and other writings have been read by many and had many and varied influences.  His notes on currents, winds and tides were used by both Captain Cook and Admiral Nelson.  His journals inspired Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (Alexander Selkirk, the model for Robinson, was rescued by Dampier), and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and were the catalyst for the ill-fated voyage of HMS Bounty.  His writings and drawings on plants and animals were studied, and followed up on, by naturalists Alexander Humboldt and Charles Darwin (Dampier had been to Galapagos).  And he is credited with introducing more than 80 words into the English language, among them barbecue, avocado, chopsticks, and sub-species.

William Dampier may never have imagined the range of impacts that the journals would have, but it was fortunate that so many people were open to reading them.

Data Sources: National Portrait Gallery, London; Wikipedia.


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