Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

Innovation…

That which is conceivable is all too often inevitable.

Back Story

There are very few innovations that do not see the light of day because people stepped back and asked themselves whether the world could really use, or would ultimately benefit from, the innovations. Basically, our love of reward almost always trumps our sense of propriety. To be sure, our species evolves by surviving the challenges (often unnecessary) that it presents itself. However, sometimes our victories over such challenges are of dubious value. In the end, we learn little more than that we were fools to have engaged in the experiment at all (or, at a minimum, that it was an extraordinary waste of valuable time). Often, the rationale for pursuing and promulgating an idea is the conviction that if we are not aware of how something will “play out” (good or bad), we should not refrain from such pursuit, but instead give the idea the chance to prove itself in real world conditions. The assumption with this mindset is that any harm caused can probably be addressed after it has occurred. The thinking goes: “If we retire at the first sign of potential negative impact, there would be no innovation at all!” Sometimes, the equivocal nature of an innovation forces a decision regarding whether the good that will be achieved will outweigh the bad.

Unfortunately, much suffering has been visited upon this world by the introduction of innovations that weren’t benign. All too often, such suffering cannot be “put back in the bottle” or remediated for its victims after the fact. In most things, the world is not “either-or” in nature, and so we are required to determine a path forward with incomplete information and without the benefit of foresight. This aphorism encourages every person who has thought up a “great idea” to at least consider whether the idea must be given expression or development—particularly if the innovation causes moral discomfort in its creator. In the heat of discovery, it is not hard to convince yourself that what you want to do is not only justified, but essential. The question to ask yourself in every case is: is that really true?

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