One wintry night in 1933, Percy Shaw found himself driving his automobile on a remote country road in England. The night was moonless; the fog hung densely and there was a persistent mixture of rain and snow belting against his windshield. The road was little more than a lane, with no signage, no shoulders, winding and curvy. Any error in judgement would be very costly indeed.
As Mr. Shaw slogged along he suddenly came upon a rise in the road and was startled when a small Morriss Minor automobile appeared right at the crest of the grade. The approaching car was headed directly at his vehicle. He was on a slight curve, it was pitch dark, the road was slick and unmarked. In the split second he had to make a decision a small housecat scampered across the road. The headlights of Mr. Shaw”s car illuminated the eyes of the cat, and the reflection from those iridescent orbs provided Percy Shaw with just enough perspective to gage his distance and edge safely around the Morris Minor.
As Percy Shaw gathered himself after his close call, he began to think about what had occurred. Why were roads of the time so dangerous? What had just happened that he could take advantage of in a way to help all motorists? He became motivated to improve road safety for every driver everywhere. But how?
The reflection from the cat’s eyes was the key to the solution Mr. Shaw sought. He began tinkering in his garage workshop. After a number of attempts, he perfected the first “cat’s eye road reflectors”. Today, the ubiquitous illuminated reflectors implanted in roadbeds and placed strategically along roadside rights of way are part of the driving experience that we take for granted. They provide safety and guidance at night, and in horrid weather conditions. In the 1930’s they were considered an amazing safety advance.
The British Government immediately endorsed and implemented the installation of the reflectors on roads across the British Isles and then across the Empire. Millions of Percy Shaw’s “cat’s eye road reflectors” enhance driving safety around the world to this day. Mr. Shaw was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth and profited mightily from his invention. He was always most proud of the safety benefits his simple invention had provided mankind.
Modern entrepreneurs and inventors can take a simple lesson from this seemingly elementary invention. Percy Shaw was not thinking about inventing the “cat’s eye road reflector” that stormy night in 1933. An event occurred that made him consider possibilities. He sensed a need. He addressed that need. He profited from his answering the need he had identified, and all motorists realized the benefits of his inventiveness.
Creative entrepreneurs are always seeking to offer products and services that provide improved features and performance benefits not available in current items. The simplest of ideas and concepts are often the most commercial. The example of Percy Shaw’s invention of the “cat’s eye road reflector” is a wonderful template for aspiring inventors.
Opportunity can appear at the most unexpected moments. Be aware, be flexible and be opportunistic if you want to enjoy the fruits that come to successful innovators. The market always is open to new, novel products.