I’m in Las Vegas at the moment for a large IBM marketing conference, staying at the Bellagio. It’s a ridiculously large and impressive hotel full of Roman columns, endless bars, diamond encrusted horses, $2M light fittings and fruit machines with jackpots of over $20M. But on this trip, it wasn’t any of these spectacular features which caught my eye, but the little book by the side of my bed. A book I have seen hundreds of times. A book you have probably seen (and ignored) yourself whenever you have stayed in a hotel. It’s a Gideons bible.
But what strikes me about this book is the impact that it was had, not the Bible generally but the Gideons. Here I am in Vegas with thousands of marketers, ready to talk about how to get their messages seen, heard and understood by thousands of people, using some of the most sophisticated technologies in the world, including AI and machine learning.
Over 100 years ago, obviously, no such technology existed. Social media couldn’t instantly share your message with millions of people. Email technologies didn’t allow you to manage thousands of interactions with everybody you wanted to speak to. Direct mail wasn’t very direct. And radio and TV didn’t even exist in any commercial form.
But that didn’t stop John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill.
On a freezing cold night in 1899 at a YMCA in Wisconsin, these two traveling salesmen met by chance when they shared a hotel room at the Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin. Discovering that they were both Christians with a similar desire to support traveling businessmen away from their families, they started to brainstorm a few ideas over some drinks. The plan that they came up with was to simply put bibles into the rooms of local hotels, hopefully by way of providing a source of comfort or some meaningful words if ever anyone needed any.
John and Samuel began distributing free Bibles in 1908 under the name Gideons, taken from one of their favourite stories in the Old Testament, placing the the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana.
Today Gideons have planted over 2 billion Bibles in 200 countries, translated into 85 different languages. It took them 93 years to share their first billion Bibles (19091-2001), but just 13 years to share their second billion (2002-2015. Not bad from a couple of everyday traveling businessmen, who randomly met in a bar with nothing more than an idea and a desire to make a difference.
It just goes to show (as if I needed reminding myself), that it is people, not technology which makes the difference. And a good idea, with the right vision and the right team behind it, has the capacity to reach everyone. It has always been that way. Always will be.
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that we have faith in people, that they’re good and they’re smart. And if we given them the right tools they’ll do something wonderful with them”. Steve Jobs.