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Innovation. From Galileo to Modern Times.

by Dr Dorel Iosif

Part I


Innovation - Cognisium
Machiavelli. Innovation. Cognisium

In the annals of human progress, innovation has been the driving force behind transformative change. From ancient civilizations to the digital age, the quest for novel ideas and ground-breaking solutions has shaped our world.

Let’s explore some pivotal moments in the old history of innovation:

 

The Commonitorium and the Struggle for Truth: In the early days of Christianity, the Commonitorium emerged as a doctrine that sought to distinguish true Catholic teachings from heresy. Vincent de Lérins, a 5th-century monk, emphasized the importance of preserving antiquity. His words echoed through the centuries: “Avoid profane novelty; hold tightly to antiquity”. In essence, he cautioned against abandoning tradition in favour of untested ideas. This tension between innovation and tradition persists even today, especially within religious contexts.

 

Galileo Galilei and the Quest for Longitude: Fast forward to the 17th century. Europe’s maritime powers—Venice, the Netherlands, France, and Spain—offered prizes to incentivize scientific breakthroughs. The challenge? Create a device to determine longitude at sea. Christiaan Huygens and Galileo Galilei were among the contestants. Galileo Galilei, renowned for his astronomical discoveries, proposed observing Jupiter’s moons as a solution for Spain. His ingenious idea involved tracking the positions of these celestial bodies. Remarkably, the Galilean calculator, designed for this purpose, still stands as a testament to his ingenuity in Florence’s Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza.

 

Galileo’s Legacy and the Medici Influence: Galileo’s scientific achievements were not only shaped by his brilliance but also by the visionary leadership of the Medici family. The Médicis protected him from the wrath of the Catholic Church, which viewed some of his ideas as heretical. Despite this, Galileo faced challenges. He proposed an accurate longitudinal clock for the Dutch prize but passed away before constructing it. His son eventually built a model seven years later. The Church’s official pardon came much later - in 1992 - when Pope John Paul II affirmed that the Earth indeed orbited the sun.


Innovation, whether driven by curiosity, necessity, or competition, has propelled humanity forward. From ancient sages to modern inventors, each contribution adds to our collective knowledge.  So, as we venture beyond the confines of tradition, let’s remember both the cautionary wisdom of Vincent de Lérins and the audacity of Galileo - a reminder that progress often requires challenging the status quo, even if it takes centuries to be fully recognised.

In the corridors of history, Niccolò Machiavelli stands as a beacon of political insight. His works, “The Prince” (1513) and “The Discourses” (1528), offer contrasting views on innovation - a concept that reverberates through the ages.


In “The Prince”, Machiavelli paints innovation as a bold stroke, a tempest that reshapes the very fabric of governance. Imagine a ruler standing at the crossroads, contemplating new laws and institutions. Here, innovation is akin to a masterful brushstroke on the canvas of power. It is the audacity to break free from tradition, to forge a path uncharted. Machiavelli whispers to the prince, “Embrace change; wield it like a sword. For stagnation breeds weakness, and the winds of innovation propel you forward”.


Yet, in “The Discourses”, Machiavelli dons a different mantle. Here, innovation wears the cloak of imitation - a phoenix rising from the ashes of antiquity. Picture a world where the original purity of institutions has been tarnished by human folly and the relentless march of time. In this realm, innovation becomes a pilgrimage, a return to the pristine ideals of yore. Machiavelli, with ink-stained fingers, writes, “Seek the ancient wisdom; cleanse the tarnished gold. For innovation need not always be radical; sometimes, it is a gentle echo of forgotten truths”.


Remarkably, Machiavelli’s era did not celebrate innovators. The word itself carried a double-edged sword, an accolade for some, a weapon for others. No person dared to don the mantle of an innovator willingly; it was thrust upon them by circumstance. To innovate was to risk the wrath of enemies, to dance on the precipice of fate. Yet, Machiavelli’s ink flowed, immortalizing both the daring trailblazers and the cautious restorers.


Machiavelli’s inkwell brimmed with paradoxes - innovation as revolution, innovation as restoration.

Perhaps therein lies the essence of progress: a delicate balance between forging ahead and retracing footsteps. So, as we navigate our own tumultuous seas, let us heed the whispers of the past. For innovation, whether a tempest or a gentle breeze, shapes destinies and leaves its indelible mark on the annals of time.

 

Innovation is the heartbeat of progress, the catalyst that propels societies forward. It’s not just about inventing new gadgets or technologies; it’s about reshaping the world we live in.


In 1934, economist Joseph Schumpeter introduced a groundbreaking definition of innovation. He described it as “new combinations of new or existing knowledge, resources, equipment, and other factors”. This perspective emphasizes the fusion of existing elements to create something novel.

Schumpeter drew a clear line between invention and innovation. Invention is the birth of a new idea or product, while innovation involves bringing that idea to life in the marketplace.


Schumpeter viewed innovation as a dynamic social activity. It’s not a solitary endeavour; rather, it unfolds within the economic sphere, driven by commercial intent. Innovators dance with possibilities, orchestrating new symphonies of value.

In contrast, inventions can sprout anywhere, even in the quiet corners of a garage, without any commercial aspirations.

 

Entrepreneurs are the mavericks of innovation.

 

They’re not bound by resource constraints; instead, they chase opportunities relentlessly. Entrepreneurship is the art of seizing those opportunities, regardless of what resources one possesses.

Schumpeter’s definition liberated innovation from the shackles of mere imitation or invention. It became the anthem of capitalist entrepreneurship, constantly reshaping economies.

 

The Economic Symphony of Innovation

Why does innovation matter? Because it births new businesses, which in turn, fuel economic growth.

 

It’s not just about gadgets; it’s about reimagining business models, streamlining processes, and creating services that touch lives.

 

Innovation doesn’t happen by accident; it’s a structured, systematic process. Imagine it as a choreographed dance, each step deliberate, each move building momentum and discipline is the key. Innovators learn, adapt, and practice. They refine their art, pushing boundaries and defying norms.


And so, innovation isn’t confined to labs or Silicon Valley. It’s woven into the fabric of our existence.


Let’s embrace innovation and march into a future where new combinations spark revolutions.


Part II - to come (from Schumpeter to DARPA)

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