Wigs & Windows of Opportunity
“It was an odd situation. For a century and a half, men got rid of their own hair, which was perfectly comfortable, and instead covered their heads with something foreign and uncomfortable. Very often it was actually their own hair made into a wig. People who couldn’t afford wigs tried to make their hair look like a wig.”
Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
The definition of a peruke or periwig, according to my Google search is: a type of wig for men, fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries. The definition of a “window of opportunity,” which is common to every age, is a favourable opportunity for doing something that must be seized immediately.
Richard Arkwright understood both concepts and recognized their relevance in his life. His brilliance, in my estimation, was based on his ability to see the future needs of an agrarian society on the verge of an extraordinary transformation. He identified many windows of opportunities during his lifetime, acting quickly, resourcefully, and efficiently to exploit them before they closed. Perhaps his greatest talent was to partner with those who could help him realize his ambitions.
Education was expensive; young Richard was home-schooled by his cousin Ellen. In the early 1750’s, when he was in his twenties, he apprenticed as a barber and wig maker. The attire of an 18th century gentleman included the essential periwig, powdered to give that characteristic white or off-white colour. It was in those formative years as he worked on producing wigs, that Richard experienced a breakthrough. He invented a waterproof dye for colouring wigs. It was not long before he received a substantial income from this initiative. He would soon parlay this capital into a cotton machinery enterprise. Another window was about to open.
I imagine that there were people who asked, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Perhaps the question that Richard Arkwright asked, “What could I invent that others need?” He seemed to know the answer before anyone else.
“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”
Thomas A. Edison