Who Says We’re Losing Our Edge?

Toward the end of 2014, two scientists in Boston dreamed up a new way of growing bacteria that may lead to a new class of antibiotics that do not lose their disease-fighting potency over time. The same year, a spacecraft launched by India in late 2013 made it all the way to Mars on its first attempt. The cost of the Indian operation was just $74 million—which Time magazine noted was less than the budget of the sci-fi film “Gravity,” a fictional account of astronauts stranded in orbit around the Earth.

At the same time, engineers at a start-up outside of Boston developed a way to send electricity from a generator or power source to a device like a computer or TV, without using wires. They were able to beam electricity through the atmosphere.

And, when the International Space Station needed a replacement part, rather than send that part into space inside a capsule and hand-deliver it to the crew of the ISS, the team on the ground beamed some software to the station. Astronauts on the station received the signal and created the badly needed part on a 3-D printer.

I could go on.

I mention these developments for two reasons. First, they’re interesting, in a nerdy sort of way. But second, and much more importantly, they show that all this talk about how—insert the name of your country here—has lost its creative juices, is simply wrong. People are just as creative now as they ever were. Perhaps they’re more creative.

Put aside all those small groups that are downright evil or simply destructive. There are plenty of people wasting their and others’ lives doing useless, painful, hurtful things. But aside from a few groups of lunatics scattered around the planet, people, for the most part, are either eager to create or are appreciative of what’s new.

And yet, nearly every exciting new development is accompanied by jeers from nattering spectators who argue the development was wasteful, wrongheaded, useless or flawed. Why should India, an emerging nation, squander money by sending probes to Mars? Shouldn’t it focus on feeding its population? And what business does the United States have leading the fight against Ebola, in places so far from us, when so many here are living on food stamps?

While it’s true that everybody has to eat, it’s also true that the future is what we make of it.

If a country like India thinks it can shape the future by figuring out a thrifty way to send explorers into space and on to other planets, why not applaud? That’s valuable. Doing that will change the world and inspire more great endeavors.

For reasons we don’t quite understand, humans invent things, while the animals and plants with which we share this planet prefer to let things lie. The fact is, we know which caves were inhabited by early humans because those were the caverns with the painted walls and all the garbage on the floors. Instead of being content to inherit the future, our ancestors defined themselves, from earliest times, by creating their own futures.

When someone moans “we lost our creative edge,” it’s important to remind them that they are repeating a baseless comment. Human beings are just as creative as ever. The problem isn’t that we’ve stopped doing new things. It’s that when new things arrive—step-counting wristbands or implants that stop an epileptic seizure—those naysayers are looking in the wrong direction.

Authors

  • Joel Kurtzman

    Former Editor-in-Chief, Korn Ferry Institute