In 1888 Bertha, a young German housewife, was worried about her husband, she had married Karl because she thought he was a brilliant inventor.
She brought a sizeable dowry to the marriage which financed his major invention, a tricycle with one of the world’s first internal-combustion engines: the ‘Motorwagen’.
Bertha was right about Karl, he was brilliant, just not very good at marketing.
He didn’t sell anything, people saw it as a novelty, Karl had no idea how to market it.
But Bertha was more practical, she knew what was needed was proof that it wasn’t just a toy, it could do everything a horse-drawn wagon could do.
So she left Karl a note saying she was taking their sons, age 13 and 15, to visit her mother.
As this was 100km away, Carl knew she’d take the train, until he opened the garage door.
Then he found his ‘Motorwagen’ was missing, surely she couldn’t have taken that.
It only held enough fuel for ten miles and there was nowhere to fill up with more.
Plus which, there were no roads, just rocky rutted tracks, his ‘Motorwagen’ would get shaken to bits, it would be madness.
But Bertha had taken his invention, she hadn’t thought out any of the problems, she just decided she’d solve them as they cropped up.
The first problem to crop up was when she ran out of petrol.
Bertha knew that Ligroin was a petrol-based solvent and she knew most pharmacies sold it, so she found a pharmacy in a small village and bought ten one-litre bottles.
(She had just invented the filling-station for automobiles.)
Then two wires touched and shorted the electrical system, Bertha repaired them by using her garter to keep them apart.
(She had just invented insulation.)
Then the carburettor blocked and couldn’t be cleared by blowing through it, so Bertha used her hatpin to clear the blockage.
(She just invented roadside mechanical assistance.)
Then the wooden brake-blocks wore out, so she asked a cobbler in a small village to make two leather skins to fit around the wooden blocks.
(She’d just invented brake-pads.)
Finally she came to a hill that the little engine couldn’t climb, it only had two gears as it had only ever been driven on the flat.
Bertha had her sons push it uphill and knew she’d have to invent lower gearing for the engine to handle inclines.
When she got to her mother’s house she telegrammed her husband to tell him what she’d done, and the next day she turned around and drove back the 100 km return journey.
Proving that her husband’s ‘Motorwagen’ could do anything a horse and carriage could do: 200 km in two days.
The demonstration was so powerful the story circulated all over Germany, her husband’s company became a huge success.
Bertha’s maiden name was Ringer, but her married name was Benz and her husband was Karl Benz.
The Benz company became so successful that in 1926 it merged with Daimler and became Mercedes Benz.
What we can learn from Bertha Benz is that problems will never be solved by sitting round and waiting until everything is perfect.
We have to get started even if we can’t see the solutions, because the problems won’t be what we expected anyway.
And while we sit around thinking about it we may miss the opportunity.
I had a client once who was a billionaire, I asked him what lessons he could pass on.
He told me, just one: “Do it, then fix it”.