Monday, January 17, 2011

Ingenuity: The way forward..

Wikipedia says "Ingenuity refers to the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges."

Its not the same thing as pure research, which often provides the basis for ingenius solutions.  Nor is it as  simple as the work supporting the "New and Improved" label on the box of detergent.  Of course, thats not to say an ingenious approach wasn't involved in the scientific discovery or wasn't applied in creating the formula for the new and improved detergent, but you don't need ingenuity for those things.  Plodding along will get you to the same point eventually perhaps.  Ingenuity and the ingenious approach to solving problems can work in all situations.  Ingenuity is the very thing that drives civilization forward.  Ingenuity is the only way we will continue feeding an expanding population, increase the standard of living for all people, treat diseases in crowded societies, minimize human-caused climate change, and in the end promote a more peaceful coexistence for all people.

Ingenuity requires a mix of scientific knowledge and creativity.  Now most people would associate those two concepts with opposing sides of the brain.  Science isn't typically thought of as being creative.  Creative people aren't typically thought of as being scientific intellectuals.  Thats why ingenuity on a grand scale can be so elusive.  We need to promote the merging of science and creativity.  They need each other.  

In the excellent book, The Ingenuity Gap by Thomas Homer-Dixon, the author cites a couple common examples of how ingenuity dramatically changed the way things are done because the new solution was so much better and simpler than the old way.  It was a radically different ingenious approach to an old problem you might say.

One is the example of digital watches and clocks, which are orders of magnitude more accurate than the old mechanical  devices, and far cheaper to produce as well. Another example is the jet engine for airplanes which replaced heavier, less powerful and far more complicated propeller engines.  I recommend that book for an interesting perspective on how humans need to approach solving the enormous problems looming in the future if we want our civilization to remain stable and standard of living to improve over the long term. We will need a lot of ingenuity to solve mankind's many problems and crisis.

Our schools, government units, businesses, research institutions and every single American needs to be tuned into seeking, investigating, and promoting ingenious solutions.  These solutions will generally cause disruptions to those whose fortunes involve the old way of doing things, so be aware that ingenuity isn't always immediately regarded as good or beneficial.  But they are in our best interests overall, so we have to get past the politics if we want our civilization to survive.      

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