30 September 2011

Thinking More Deeply: Building Innovation Engines

Innovative Thinking

In research and development, the most revolutionary discoveries are often hidden beneath the flash and whiz-bang of fancy products, processes, and therapies. But here are two examples of discoveries of a more subtle and important type:
A TEAM of North-East academics and industry experts have "cracked the DNA code of plastic" which could mean massive cost and energy savings for business. Researchers at Durham University and the University of Leeds have collaborated with the Tees Valley chemical process sector to solve a long-standing problem that is set to revolutionise the way new plastics are developed.

Before the discovery, industry would develop a plastic and then find a use for it, or try hundreds of different recipes until they stumbled across the right mix. _Source

Alert readers will see the similarity between this new innovation engine for creating plastics-on-demand, and approaches to "rational design" of drugs and proteins. This type of breakthrough often sets the stage for large numbers of rapid-fire innovations to follow.

University of Utah chemists developed a method to design and test new catalysts, which are substances that speed chemical reactions and are crucial for producing energy, chemicals and industrial products. By using the new method, the chemists also made a discovery that will make it easier to design future catalysts. The discovery: the sizes and electronic properties of catalysts interact to affect how well a catalyst performs, and are not independent factors as was thought previously. Chemistry Professor Matt Sigman and doctoral student Kaid Harper, report their findings in the Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, issue of the journal Science.

“It opens our eyes to how to design new catalysts that we wouldn’t necessarily think about designing, for a broad range of reactions,” Sigman says. “We’re pretty excited.” _Physorg

This is another example of a discovery that could potentially set off a chain reaction of new discoveries and revolutionary products.

Some people intuitively understand the deeper nature of such discoveries, and the infinitely larger potential of such developments to revolutionise entire fields and societies. Others, failed by modern dumbed-down educational systems, may need to think about the idea for a while.

A great deal of attention is given to the concept of "higher order effects (PDF)," but too little attention is given to "higher order causes."

The modern mass production methods of education do not generally help students to learn how to think. Ideologically driven educators assume that if the student is indoctrinated in the proper ideology, she will then naturally think in the "correct" manner. And so indoctrination replaces education, and graduates and future leaders become lifelong incompetents, because they never learned to think.

This is not just about logic and resolving contradictions. It is also about generative thinking, lateral thinking, problem solving, and growing beyond ideology. A society whose graduates can think rationally and generatively is less likely to fall into a quagmire of malaise such as currently entraps much of the advanced world.

Generative thinkers do not merely solve problems as they arise. They also solve problems that lead to other problems -- before they arise. They do this by thinking more deeply, and further out of the ideological box.

Let's be clear: Although ideology can make a person's life easier and his choices more automatic, an honest person who is bound tightly by ideology cannot truly think -- the cognitive dissonance becomes too great. Thus the heated and perpetually unresolved arguments one sees in religion, politics, and on environmental issues.

It is always a pleasure to confront an ideological opponent, and to mutually penetrate beneath the level of ideology to a generative level and mode of thinking. The productive output of such sessions can be much greater than any number of brainstorming sessions occurring within a circle of "self-anointed truth-bearers."

Generations of children are being short-changed and mind-stunted by inappropriate educational methods. This stunting and starving of brains occurs from kindergarten through university, and beyond. Those who have been paying attention understand that this is not happening by accident, just as the "energy starvation agenda" of modern governments is not happening by accident.

If a society is marinated in ideological thinking -- as virtually all human societies have been -- change can be very slow in coming. Since the converging problems of debt and demographic decline in the west are occurring at a rate which will probably not allow the needed changes to occur at high enough levels, it is up to persons at more local levels to instigate necessary changes to the best of their ability.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that a magical singularity will miraculously solve the human world's problems. Singularities help those who help themselves. Humans will have to make this transition from ideological thinking to generative thinking.

What proportion of humans will need to move beyond conventional thinking? Al Fin futurologists estimate that at least 10% and perhaps as many as 20% of humans within a society will have to forsake ideology and learn to think for themselves. The odds of finding such an innovation-rich environment by accident are very poor.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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