"A Magazine" – Science and Invention
Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 10:00AM
Julio M. Ottino

Julio M. Ottino wrote the welcome letter to A Magazine's Science and Invention Issue. Read the issue.

We think we know what our big problems are. We don’t. 

The truth is, we only see the problems that face us now, those that must be solved from the limited perspective of the times in which we live. Many problems that we have not yet imagined are guaranteed to appear, and they will tax our imagination like never before. Increasingly, these problems will be presented to us as dilemmas. Security or personal freedom? Increases in standard of living or minimizing environmental impact? These new challenges demand new ways of thinking. 

We need innovation at all levels: in the early educational system, in our universities, in non-profits, in our governments and in our companies. Technology-driven products rooted in new scientific developments will continue to appear. But having the best science is no longer enough.

Steve Jobs said: “I think there’s actually very little distinction between an artist and a scientist or engineer of the highest caliber.” But navigating between these domains is not easy. Science is about building and exhausting paradigms, technology is about disrupting paradigms, and art is about breaking paradigms in search of new ones. In science, it is good to “stand on the shoulders of giants,” but in art, especially now, it is a decidedly bad idea. And in technology, the only reason to stand on the shoulders is to crush the elder giant, to replace an established technology.  Historically, our educational systems have excelled at developing people in one of these domains, but that is no longer good enough. Innovation will increasingly happen when there is a collision of worlds. 

At its root, science involves logical, rational and methodical thinking; art requires the ability for divergent and metaphorical thinking. Successful innovators tend to develop both methods, analytical and aesthetic, right-brain and left-brain. Focusing solely on analysis can provide us with the tools, but leaves us without the first notion of the broad setting or how to get started. The combination gives us the big picture and the details. One way to incorporate both ways of thinking is through design, which is increasingly a competitive advantage.

Innovation requires this whole-brain approach. To succeed, we must foster broad thinking and an understanding of different domains. But innovation also requires one more crucial element – constant work. As Pablo Picasso observed: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”

Article originally appeared on Julio Mario Ottino (http://www.juliomarioottino.com/).
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