When people start calling you crazy, you might be on the right track.
Guglielmo Marconi was a foolish dreamer. Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy in 1848. At school he read about Leonardo Da Vinci’s soaring imagination. Inspired, young Marconi did some imagineering of his own.
When he was just 20, he created a clunky wireless device in his Dad’s basement that could actually transmit radio signals. His Dad thought he was lying, but when young Marconi convinced him there were no wires, his Dad emptied his wallet right on the spot for more supplies.
Next, Marconi wrote to the Italian Ministry, explaining his wireless telegraph machine and asking for funding. When the Minister threatened to toss Marconi in the Lungara Asylum in Rome. Marconi thought about quitting. Instead, he built a bigger, crazier machine, dragged it outside the basement, and proved he could transmit a military signal over a hill 1.5 miles away. No one laughed this time.
Soon, Marconi was known as the Father of Modern Radio. He won the Nobel Prize and became a hero on a scale that Italy hadn’t seen since Da Vinci. When the Titanic sank in 1912, the world credited Marconi with saving 764 lives. Why? Because the Titanic’s modern Marconi wireless was able to call in rescue ships at night.
Despite his celebrity, Marconi worked long into each night on his next crazy-beautiful idea. Even in his sixties, after four heart attacks, he refused to slow down or give up. And what an idea it was! In a PRX Public Radio segment, narrator Nat DiMeo described it this way:
Marconi became convinced that sound never dies—that sound waves, once emitted from a radio, or from the vibrating strings of a Stradivarius, or from whispering lovers…that those sounds get weaker but live on forever. We just hadn’t built a radio powerful enough to recapture the signals.
So here was Marconi near the end of his life, growing weaker with each heart attack, dreaming of a device that would let all of us tap into these eternal frequencies.
He wanted us to be able to hear everything…hear Jesus of Nazareth giving the sermon on the Mount. . .hear Caesar’s voice, hear Shakespeare giving an actor a line. . .hear someone tell you they loved you that very first time. Hear everything. Forever.
Marconi was mostly wrong about that idea. Or maybe, like Da Vinci, he was just ahead of his time. Either way he was willing to play the fool on our behalf. He not only thought of that impossibly beautiful idea, he went after it with his last breath.
You too have a creative contribution to make. Something small, something big, something utterly fantastic or quirky—an idea unique to you. Never turn your back on your own ideas. You may not live to see all of them realized, but be as foolish as Marconi and chase them anyway. Our world will be better if you do.