You may not know the name of Hungarian journalist László József Bíró, but if you’ve ever written a shopping list or jotted down a quick note, you probably owe him. Frustrated by the constant smearing of his fountain pen, Bíró noticed one day that newspaper ink dried considerably faster than his writing ink. Had Bíró found a solution to his handwriting woes?
Well, no. Poured into a 30’s era fountain pen, newspaper ink was too thick and sticky to work on a standard nib. After some tinkering, he hit upon the idea of a ball and socket approach, and with some ink-brewing help from his chemist brother György, the world had its first ballpoint pen.
The new design soon found some success, beloved by World War II British Royal Airforce pilots because it didn’t leak at high altitudes.
After the war ended, a number of companies duked it out for the rights to produce their own ballpoint creations. Who ultimately came out on top? A Frenchman, Marcel Bich, and the company he named after a shortened version of his own surname. Bíró might have invented the ballpoint, but Bic took it worldwide—and made it a household name. Today, Bic sells more than 20 million pens a day.
And no wonder: the new highly affordable pens were a huge improvement over the writing tools of yore. Who knows how much more prolific the Jeffersons or Austens or Twains of the world could have been, unencumbered by ink refills or messy smudges?
When it comes to written communication, the Bic is elegantly simplistic. What if there were an equally simplistic solution for verbal communication?
How many of us find ourselves at a loss for words when dealing with our friends or loved ones? The ability to read someone and deliver the proper response might be true wisdom. Until the next generation of inventor puts together a robot to help us calculate the right thing to say at any moment, perhaps the best we can do is to lean on a different kind of Bic.
When someone comes to a friend or a loved one with a problem, there are roughly three types of response they might be looking for:
Sometimes a person needs us to simply prop them up and let them know it’s all going to work out.
Other times, that friend or loved one is sharing their sorrows in search of getting some help sorting through various interpretations and solutions.
Then there are the times a person wants neither cheery words nor a new perspective on their situation, but just a sympathetic ear, a chance to vent their feelings, fears, and frustrations.
This may sound simple, but often the key to truly feeling comforted is receiving the right step of BIC. Have you ever confided your problems to a friend, hoping they would tell you it was all going to be okay, only to instead get a gentle, “Wow, that really sucks”? Or maybe you’ve spilled your woes to a significant other and been met with a ten-point plan of attack when all you wanted was a hug.
Different people have different preferences, and those can vary from situation to situation and even from minute to minute. Ideally, we want those we care about to be in tune with us, to intuitively understand what part of BIC is required. But during emotional stress, a quick shorthand could save a lot of guesswork and frustration, to help us get it right the first time in the moments it matters the most.
After all, pens and conversations have something else in common: no erasers.