The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 139: Achieving The Impossible

If you’re a long time listener than you may remember me talking in the past about sporting talent and the importance, as a child, of seeing someone that makes you say “That could be me”.
It gives people belief that they can achieve something that they thought of as impossible. I’ve also spoken about Roger Banister and about how he refused to admit that running a mile in under 4 minutes was impossible for him.
His level of dedication to his training regime is rare but what happened immediately afterwards isn’t.
If you don’t already know this, despite no-one being able to break the 4 minute mile, as soon as Roger did, so did everyone else, because they were inspired to push themselves a little harder.
Rogers training regime was strict for it’s time, 1954, but in todays standards is pretty easy going training. But Roger Bannister pushed himself so hard to get it under 4 minutes that he couldn’t speak for 10 minutes after winning the race and was momentarily colour blind.
This may be 60 years ago, but with each generation of athletes they’ve been able too push themselves further and further in training, so that running a mile quicker than 4 minutes isn’t going to make an athlete colour blind.
Every time a young athlete sees how hard someone has to train and is willing to put the work in they’ve been inspired to work harder still.
And this isn’t just reserved for physical athleticism. Inspiration can sometimes come about in the most unlikely of places.

Such as The Turk!
The Turk was an Automaton Chess Player sometimes was called the Mechanical Turk.
In 1770 an inventor by the name of Wolfgang von Kempelen debuted his latest creation. A chess playing clockwork machine!
It moved pieces around the board and would beat the best of the best. It was a tremendous invention but the exact machinery inside of it was never revealed. It looked incredibly complicated with hundreds of moving parts but the inventor never gave anyone any drawings or showed anyone how it worked.

Because of this, other inventors had to figure it out for themselves. It took a very long time to figure it out and in the meantime The Turk toured around the world until it eventually burnt in a fire at a Museum in Philadelphia.
This was smack bang in the middle of the industrial revolution and because it toured the world it generated a lot of interest with the engineering folks and many inventors that watched it then went on to do some amazing things. Because of the Turk being able to play chess, it inspired Charles Babbage to create what is known as the worlds first computer, the Difference Engine. The very first mechanical mathematical calculator.

Without the Turk Edmund Cartwright wouldn’t have sat and worked out a way to improve the weaving loom and created the Power Loom.

These 2 things helped to lead Britain into the 20th Century as an absolute powerhouse that we’ve not really been able to replicate, because of inspiration, of not seeing limits, of seeing the potential.

James Dyson went through over 5000 prototypes of his bagless vacuum cleaner for 5 years until he got it to work properly, because he was able to turn his stubbornness into tenacity and determination to make it work. He saw how the process worked on a larger scale in a sawmill with a cyclonic separator that removes dust from the air and wouldn’t let go of working out how to turn it into a vacuum cleaner.

So inspiration really can come from anywhere.
The interesting thing about The Turk is that all these years later we do know now exactly how it worked, exactly where the cogs went, exactly where the strings went and exactly where the little chess playing man sat inside it pulling those strings.
It was a trick, a very clever magic trick and the owner toured the world with it hiring chess players as he went.
But because genuine clockwork Automatons were common, no one had any reason to doubt that it wasn’t real, and so it inspired inventors to look beyond what they thought of as their limits.
We all need to be aware of this, that what we see as our limits can sometimes just be stepping stones onto something greater.
But we need inspiration.

Look around you.

What inspires you?
Who inspires you?

Be aware that it’s OK to be the stupidest person in your social group, in fact I recommend it. Being the smartest person in the room might sound like a great aspiration, but where do you go from there?

It’s useful to have someone that you can model yourself on, someone whom you can look to and ask yourself “What would they do if they were in my situation?” This could be a parent, a teacher, a good boss you may have had, it could be someone from fiction. It doesn’t really matter as long as you recognise that it can be done by someone else and so it can be done by you.

As we discover with The Turk, even when it can’t be done at that time, keeping a belief that it’s possible means that we will get there in the end.