What if you’re right – but no one knows it.
Not only does no one know it, people openly say you are wrong, stupid, woefully misinformed.
The crowd tells you to go back home.
Is being right enough when everyone tells you that you are wrong?
This is what happened to John Newlands. Ever heard of this guy? Nope. You haven’t.
In the 1860’s he was screwing around at his family-owned sugar refinery and came upon a truly crazy idea.
He started charting out the elements that make up the universe and as he wrote them down by how heavy he thought they were, he started to think he could see patterns. Every eight elements had some things in common.
“This is like music,” he exclaimed. “Nature has octaves!”
This was a big deal because it showed some holes and alluded to the existence of more elements that hadn’t yet been considered.
Newlands was totally stoked on this discovery, scribbled out a paper and headed to some scientific conventions to get his pals pumped on the idea as well.
Turns out, no one else thought this was as exciting as he did.
The other chemists told him he was wrong. They told him to go home and leave the scientific papers to the scientists who had not been home-schooled and sugar-rushed.
But what Newlands had done was essentially create the Periodic Table of Elements. Sure – it was slightly out of order. And the comparison of nature to written music didn’t catch on. But because of John Newlands, you had to do some intense memorization in high school and people got a much better understanding of how the world was made for the next 100 years.
But notoriety and respect weren’t in the cards for Newlands.
A few years later, a Russian guy figured out most of the same things (minus the musical big talk), arranged the elements in a different way and suddenly became touted as a visionary and still gets most of the credit when it comes to chemistry flashcards.
While a few people recognized the commonalities and tried to pass on some retroactive cred to Mr. Newlands, most reports don’t have him ever getting much in the way of praise or adulation.
One hundred years after Newlands died, his hometown put a little blue plaque up on the side of a building to alert the curious few of Newlands and his accomplishments. But that is pretty much it. There is no massive redemption. Not a litany of sad-faced former colleagues begging forgiveness at his funeral for underestimating him. No statues and made-for-tv movies. Newlands died at 61. Game over.
It is not really an uplifting story, but it begs an interesting conversation.
What if you’re right? What if you get told you are wrong? What if you never get credit? What if someone else gets the credit?
Is it still worth the fight? Do you still want to change the world – even if you have absolutely nothing to do with it when it comes to official records and history books?
What motivates you?
Now excuse me. I have a sugar factory to run…