Taming the Wild West: KM and Innovation

Samuel Colt (19th century engraving).

The first settlers coming to the Western United States carried guns that were capable of firing only a single-shot per minute without reloading. This put them at a distinct disadvantage to those who using bow and arrows were capable of firing as many as 5-10 arrows per minute.

In 1836 that changed with the introduction of the Colt Paterson which could fire five shots from a rotating cylinder without reloading. Others had previously experimented with revolvers but Colt’s was the first design that would upon cocking automatically rotate a cylinder with multiple chambers so as to place a round in proper position aligned with a single stationary barrel. And that changed everything.

“How” that happened is all about the role that new knowledge plays in innovation.

Exploded diagram of the Paterson Colt revolver showing internal mechanisms with cylinder reversed.

Some would say that the patent granted to Samuel Colt on February 25, 1836 for the Colt Paterson brought about a “sea of change” in small arms firepower. That would be quite apt as Samuel Colt reportedly came up with the idea of the rotating cylinder while serving as a seaman onboard the brig Corvo. When he was about 14 years old he signed on a sea voyage for two years. While onboard ship he noticed that the ship’s wheel would lock into predetermined positions (to assist with holding the wheel in place to maintain course) and that “regardless of which way the wheel was spun, each spoke always came in direct line with a clutch that could be set to hold it.” (The Full Wiki)

And he said that seeing this gave him the idea for a gun where the cylinder would lock multiple chambers in place to correspond with a single barrel.

Guns were like the computers and electronics of their time. There were constant innovations and within six months anything that had been an innovation was no standard practice and perhaps even soon to be outdated. And from a practical standpoint, given where the guns were needed, outdated could mean dead when it became necessary to defend yourself.

Paterson Colts Top: Texas Paterson with Loading Lever c 1839.  Lower: Texas Paterson 1836 (replicas).Guns already existed, but Samuel Colt added to the technology with an innovation inspired from an unrelated industry. Knowledge comes from many places, and new knowledge is just that — new. If you try to innovate with existing knowledge the best to hope for are incremental innovations.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
Knowledge is key to innovation. Seeking new knowledge requires that you look where you have not yet looked. Identifying those “cross-pollination” opportunities where you take knowledge from one industry to apply it to another is an opportunity to gain a strategic advantage.
About Dr. Dan Kirsch