Subject: Invention and Adaptation – Braille Alphabet
Event: Birthday of Louis Braille, 1809
Today is the birthday of Louis Braille (1809-1852), a blind man who invented a system that brought literacy to the blind and visually impaired.
Born in Coupvray, France, in 1809, Braille lost his sight at a young age. Playing in his father’s workshop, he accidentally punctured his eye with a sharp awl. Tragically, an infection developed in the punctured eye and spread to the other eye, leaving Louis totally blind. Despite his blindness, Louis attended school in his village, and at age 10, he won a scholarship to the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.
At the Royal Institute, Braille learned night writing, a system of raised dots and dashes that allowed soldiers to read messages in the dark. Adapting and simplifying night writing, Braille developed his own system in 1824, when he was only fifteen years old. Unfortunately, Braille’s genius was not fully recognized during his lifetime (he died of consumption in 1852); however, his alphabet eventually became the standard for schools for the blind internationally (1).
Braille’s hunger for knowledge drove him to create a coding system that brought literacy to millions of visually impaired people. His refusal to live in darkness made him a tenacious seeker of the light of knowledge. His tragedy became his springboard for triumph.
Braille’s story has a couple of lessons for us about creative thinking. First, creativity is a great way to reframe a setback or failure. Instead of looking back with regret, we can look ahead for an opportunity for turning the negative into something positive. Braille clearly was a learner. His growth mindset allowed no obstacle to stop him from getting an education and contributing something to humanity. Second, creativity isn’t always about producing something from nothing; instead, it more often than not is about adapting something that exists for a new application. Braille’s adaptation of night writing took an idea that applied narrowly to a military context and expanded and simplified it to help bring literacy to the blind. Certainly other people knew about night writing, but ironically, it took a blind man to see how its use might be adapted. Perhaps no man in history better exemplified Einstein’s proclamation: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason: How did Braille’s life exemplify the growth mindset?
Challenge – Tragedy as a Springboard for Triumph: Who is another person who typifies Braille’s growth mindset, another person who turned a life-tragedy into an opportunity, or who used failure as a springboard for future success? Research the life of a person like Braille, and write a summary that presents the highlights of how this person went from tragedy to triumph.
1-Sloane, Paul. Think Like an Innovator: 76 Inspiring Business Lessons from the World’s Greatest Thinkers and Innovators. UK: FT Press, 2016.