The Future Of Innovation: Searching For The Black Cat

Eur Ing Dr Keith Bevis

Julian Huxley, the first head of UNESCO, once wrote that he recalled the story of the philosopher and the theologian. "The two were engaged in disputation and the theologian used the old quip about a philosopher resembling a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat-which wasn't there. 'That may be,' said the philosopher, 'but a theologian would have found it.'". Views of philosophy and religion have moved on over the following years and in 2008, Melvyn Bragg told the story on a BBC radio programme as the difference between the philosopher and the theologian being that the philosopher was a blind man in a darkened room searching for a black cat, but that the theologian was a blind man in a darkened room searching for a black cat that wasn't there.

What does this have to do with innovation? Well, to me an innovator is yet another blind man in another darkened room searching for that black cat, with a white mouse!

The innovation discussed by other contributors to the Future of Innovation feature optimistic developments in Science and Technology. Speaking as an engineer, I can say that scientists, engineers and technologists can become totally focused on their particular problem and its solution, be it carbon neutral housing, capturing carbon dioxide, cutting the impact of disease or improving food production. What is needed in the unfolding years of the twenty first century are graduating engineers and scientists who have a clear understanding of the underlying principles of their technologically advanced white mice, but who are also equipped with those tools that enable them to venture into some very dark rooms and join the search for innovation.

It is not how we teach innovation in our universities that will make a difference to how the next generation of brains handles itself in our challenging world. It is not how we teach strategic thinking in our universities that will give us great leaders. It is not how we teach engineering and technology in our universities that will lead to solutions. It is how we inspire these new business leaders and technologists to challenge everything they have been taught, how to think without limits, but above all to temper that thinking with the reality of the world's limitations.

By comparison with the philosopher, the theologian and even the politician, our new innovators are connected to the reality of the hunt through the sensing of their mouse. For them a real solution is possible and predictable. They will know whether there is a black cat and if there is, be certain to find it.

Article © 2009 Eur Ing Dr Keith Bevis. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Eur Ing Dr Keith Bevis

Eur Ing Dr Keith Bevis

affiliation:   University of Hertfordshire

position:  Commercial Manager; School of Engineering and Technology

country:  United Kingdom

area of interest:  Skills, Innovation, Knowledge Transfer

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