Guglielmo Marconi was a foolish dreamer. Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy in 1874. At school, he read about Leonardo Da Vinci’s soaring imagination. Back in the 1500s Da Vinci had made impossible sketches of eyeglasses, airplanes, and helicopters. He did it by indulging in foolish flights of fancy—something he called his “fantasia.” Inspired, young Marconi did some imagineering of his own. When he was just 20, he created a clunky wireless device in his father’s basement that could transmit radio signals. His father thought he was lying but when young Marconi convinced him there were no wires, his father 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. Ridiculous! The minister laughed, and said Marconi should be sent to the Lungara Asylum in Rome. Marconi thought about quitting. Instead, he built a bigger, crazier machine, dragged it outside gathering 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 705 lives. Why? Because the Titanic’s modern radio was able to call in rescue ships at night. Despite his celebrity, Marconi worked long intoeach night on his next crazy-beautiful idea. Even in his 60s, after four heart attacks, he refused to slow down or give up. And what an idea it was! In a recent PRX Public Radio segment, narrator Nate DiMeo describe 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 might have been 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, but he went after it with his last breath.
You, too have a creative contribution to make. Something small, something big, something utterly fantastic or foolish—an idea unique to you—your fantasia. 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 away. The world will be better if you do.