The Perfectionist: Peter Kilham and the Birds is about my father, Peter Kilham, who was a great designer, inventor, and visionary. Through a compelling sense of purpose and perfection he invented bird feeders which brought millions of people happiness. I will share my conversations with him along the way. Everyone can draw inspiration from his story. It is something like Tuesdays with Morrie.
The book is now on Amazon as an ebook here.
There is also an amateur off-the-air recording of my father Peter Kilham interviewed by an NBC TV station around 1980. The image quality is technically poor, characteristic of the early video tape recorders, but it captures the essence of Peter Kilham. See it on YouTube .
Here is an excerpt from the book:
My father showed us that purpose, spirit, tenacity, and character fuel a person’s quest for success no matter how daunting the struggle. Key values aiding the quest are truth and perfection. The magical strength of the human heart and the extraordinary intellectual capacity of the human brain are worth more than any collection of material things and more relevant than the collective wisdom of the crowd. As Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”
But times are changing. As my father noted when he was interviewed by John M. Conly of The Atlantic magazine in the October 1960 issue:
“Where was art? I wondered,” says Kilham. “In Leonardo’s time there was a reason for painting, for building cathedrals. Today there is only self-expression. The result is emptiness.”
The digital age seems to bypass true creativity and beauty. It becomes more pervasive as people, particularly the younger generations, squeeze into cities and absorb almost all their information from glowing screens. Being at one with nature and enjoying it as an artform itself is becoming a quaint pastime of the older generation. We are increasingly in the matrix of the digital world.
People must see that the whole universe is available to them and that creativity has never been more important than now. Children should realize that there is an infinite future for them. Society’s failure is failure to give them hope and encouragement. People’s dreams and imagination are the starting points for great creations.
For those who would seriously like to invent and produce something like the world’s best bird feeder, my father offered these insights an interview with a local newspaper:
My ideas aren't guaranteed to make anyone's fortune. But then again—if you're not in a hurry—maybe they will. You ask me how I came up with a bird feeder that made the world beat a path to my door? By doing my work according to these notions:
1. Make sure you satisfy yourself. Don't let yourself be rushed into doing things you're not proud of. Be a perfectionist.
2. Don't be afraid to fail. Be willing to work by trial and error. The life we live is made up of falls and recoveries. The falls educate us and the recoveries enrich us.
3. Reach for excellence always. You can never reach that perfection yourself, but if you try as hard as you can that's the main thing. That's where happiness lies. And, often, success as well.
Larry Kilham is a Sloan School of Management graduate from MIT, received three patents, and has founded two high-tech companies. Many of his product designs required innovative use of computers, and as early as the 1960s he was researching artificial intelligence (AI).