Anticipation and Commitment: The Story of Motorola

From Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, a demonstration of anticipating a problem in the future and committing to solve it:

Robert Galvin’s father had founded Motorola early in the 20th century to make car radios. For several decades the business was a small one-room operation, with perhaps a dozen engineers and no large contracts, so Galvin’s father worked very hard to make ends meet. In 1936 he felt that he finally could afford to take a vacation. He took his wife and young Robert on a European tour. As they traveled across Germany, the elder Galvin became convinced that sooner or later Hitler would start a war. Upon his return home, he followed up his hunch by sending Don Mitchell, one of his assistants, to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin to find out how the army passed on information among its various units.

Mitchell drove to Wisconsin, rang a bell at the gate of the camp, sat down with the major in charge, and in a short time found out that, as far as communications were concerned, the army hadn’t changed at all since World War I: A phone wire was run from the front line to the back trenches. Upon being told this, Galvin’s ears perked up. “Don,” he is supposed to have said, “if we can make a radio that fits in a car and receives signals, can’t we marry a little transmitter with it, and could we add some kind of power unit and put it into a box so someone could hold it, and he could talk from the front trench to the back trench with radios instead of stringing out the wire?” They figured it was a good idea and went to work. By the time Hitler invaded Poland, Motorola was ready to produce what became the SCR 536, the walkie talkie of World War II. Robert Galvin uses this story to illustrate what he means by anticipation and commitment: on the one hand, having the foresight to realize how you could contribute to the future and thereby profit from it, and on the other, to have faith in your intuition and work hard to actualize it.

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