I’m finally catching up on some of the background reading I need to do for An Ouroboros, including a 2014 working paper by Laura Niemi that demonstrates that an interest in the visual arts is predictive of occupational innovation (as indicated by business ownership, entrepreneurship, and patent filings). The paper shows what my colleagues and I who work at the intersection of arts and entrepreneurship understand intuitively and, as research is beginning to demonstrate, empirically:
If we are to understand innovation, after Csikszentmihaly, to mean a novel idea or product that has impact on a domain, then artistic creativity, in which unique ideas are developed in an environment of ambiguity and uncertainty, can lead to innovative and creative outputs that may have both positive cultural and economic impacts.
Steven Johnson, in his video introduction to the book Where Good Ideas Come From reminds us that those unique ideas don’t become impactful innovations in a vacuum. He looks at innovation from an environmental perspective: “what are the spaces that have historically led to creativity and innovation?” He talks about how innovative ideas, historically, were created in places where ideas could “mingle, and swap, and create new forms.” He credits “our ability to reach out and exchange ideas with other people” as the “primary engine of creativity and innovation.”
I thought about Johnson’s argument quite a bit last week as a ban on travel from seven majority Muslim countries was enacted. Many business leaders, especially in the technology sector, immediately expressed concern about the ban for both practical and this more philosophical (but historically supported) reason: innovation comes from the cross-pollination of ideas. Algebra, after all, was invented by a Persian living in Baghdad; would we have gotten to the moon if his ideas had been (metaphorically) trapped behind visa regulations?
(image: Statue of al-Khwarizmi in front of the Faculty of Mathematics of Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran by M. Tomczak, CC 3.0)