In 240 BC, king Hiero of Syracuse ordered his chief engineer and inventor to complete a nearly impossible task: Build the Syracusia.
The Syracusia was the Titanic of its day. A ship so large, so pompous, so loaded with amenities, it would be a floating palace in the sea.
It would have a catapult capable of firing 180-pound-rocks on its bow and eight massive watchtowers atop the deck, which would be supported not by wooden columns, but statues of Atlas, carrying the earth on his shoulders. That’s a fitting image, seeing as Hiero also wanted the ship to carry over 1,000 people, including hundreds of soldiers, and 20 horses in separate stalls.
Therefore, the ship also needed plenty of passenger entertainment. Hiero’s ideas? A flower-lined promenade, multiple indoor swimming pools, a bathhouse with warm water, a library, a temple, and, of course, a gym. In addition, the ship was supposed to carry 400 tons of grain, 10,000 jars of pickled fish, over 70 tons of drinking water, and 600 tons of wool.
The Syracusia was a great vision for a big king at the time. Unfortunately, it was the engineer’s problem to figure out how to keep this thing afloat. If the ship sank on its maiden voyage, imagine the disgrace for its originator — and guess who he’d take it out on. Back in those days, death was as common a punishment for failure as getting no bonus is today.
But the engineer was clever. After days of deliberation, he eventually figured out that, as long as the underwater half of the ship displaced as much water as it weighed in total, it would float just fine! Surprisingly, the idea didn’t come to him while he was pouring over charts and equations but immersing himself in a nice, hot bath.
Today, the engineer’s insight is called Archimedes’ Principle — and recognized as a fundamental law of physics.
But, wait a minute. Wasn’t Archimedes’ story one about a crown, a cheating goldsmith, and a guy running naked through the streets? Maybe. As it turns out, the Latin word for crown is ‘corona.’ The Greek word for keel — the part of a ship that’s underwater — is ‘korone.’ Which means that, chances are, these two stories are one and the same. And history muddled the facts.
Regardless which version is true, the big lesson is this:
Archimedes had to trust in slowness.
He couldn’t afford to rush his equations out the door. He had no room to jump to false conclusions. He had to believe that, with some time, he would figure it out. And he did.
In our own lives, we often get scared because we think we’re running out of time. But we rarely truly are.
We might miss deadlines or put in too little effort too late — but we can always start over. Reset the project. Fire the staff. Knock on her door with a new attitude. These are hard decisions, but we’re so afraid to have to face them that we rush things. We act too fast too soon, which is exactly why we end up having to make these tough choices in the first place. But what if we didn’t?
What if we too learned to trust in slowness? Corona, korone, what does it matter as long as, at the end of the day, the ship floats, the liar is caught, the operation succeeds? Isn’t that more important?
Last Thursday, I hadn’t made any progress on an important project all week. But instead of jumping into it, I took a break. I had to. I was tired. The next day, I covered enough ground in four hours to make up for everything. I hit my stride. I had the right ideas. Slowing down had helped me speed up.
It’s hard to have faith in this process. Especially when you’re under pressure. When your boss wants the report now, when there’s almost no cash left in the bank, when the stats are declining. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
Often, trusting in incubation is exactly what we need to break through. So have faith. Let the draft sit a little longer. Trust your gut if it tells you the software isn’t ready. Practice the moves one more time. Chances are, tomorrow, they’ll be better.
Of course, it’s a balancing act. Like everything. Eventually, the deadline will come, the ship will hit the water, the curtain will rise. But that’s only a problem if we pretend it’s the eleventh hour from the first minute. Because then we can’t think straight. We lack composure. The big idea pool that is our creative subconscious can’t function. It needs time. And we need to believe the time we give to it will be time well spent.
The Syracusia made only one journey in its life. It sailed from Italy to Egypt, where it was given as a present to another king. But it arrived there in one piece. Amenities intact, hull unscathed. All thanks to one man’s trust in slowness.
Maybe, it’s time we start doing the same. I’m pretty sure we too will stay above water.