SOCIETY | Mar 15, 2019

Innovation: do we look for beauty to pursue what’s right?

What is the link between beauty, innovation and attention towards the common good?

Innovation is more poetry than science”. This was stated by Daniel W. Rasmus, author of Listening to the Future and one of the most authoritative analysts of the complex world of Digital Transformation. And he is not wrong, if we consider that in ancient Greek “poetry” is actually called poiesis” (ποίησις), from the verb “poieo” (ποιέω), which means – exactly – “make”, “create”. And if poetry is the creation of something new, what is innovation if not the application of the concept of “lyrical intuition” which Benedetto Croce used to describe art? Namely, that “aspiration enclosed in the circle of a representation” which is both intuition because of its rational side and that, as such, makes the acute awareness of technique indispensable, and lyricism as it does not only follow a technical process, but also its creative, intuitive, spiritual path. And just as there is no art without technique and creativity, there can be no innovation without creativity and art.

Innovation and beauty

Art, innovation and poetry have much in common, therefore. And if we talk about art and poetry, we can but talk about beauty. That beauty which, at a closer look, is intrinsic in every successful innovation. That innovation-related beauty which too often our society does not notice, or even hides. It does not notice it because, at best, it is busy looking at innovation as an instrument of economic growth. A technical vision to which it denies a lyrical dimension, without which, however, there would be no creative path, and therefore there would be no innovation.

It even hides it when it looks at innovation, demonizing it and fleeing from it. When it looks at innovation with fear, bewilderment and anxiety. That fear, bewilderment and anxiety which derive from the awareness that innovation is a generator of change. And change is scary. It’s scary because it leads us beyond our comfort zones, pushing us towards unknown and unexplored directions: it imposes challenges, it’s a creative process. But creation, as we have said, is the basis of poetry.

Innovation as a challenge

For this reason – also in the context of these 30 years of Internet – we should go back to focusing more on the beauty of innovation, going beyond the contemporary rhetoric which constantly seeks to highlight the negative elements of innovation. It does so because it is easier to avoid a challenge than to grasp its positive dimension. Because it is easier to ride fear of the new and fear of diversity and of the change that it generates rather than induce thought to grasp its beauty. And this certainly does not mean that we must uncritically accept as positive every element of change determined by technology. It is not a question of looking to the future with a post-futurist 2.0-type perspective.

At a time when we are faced with the need to make big decisions about what is right in relation to technological developments and their impacts on society, let us rather use beauty as an instrument to support this choice. We must make beauty a guide: at a time when distinguishing the good from the less good is fundamental, when we talk about innovation, we should take into greater consideration the criterion of “beauty” in its epistemic conception, to help us understand and determine the directions of change.

Building in the name of beauty to do so in the name of ‘good’?

Margherite Yourcenair makes Hadrian say “I felt responsible for the beauty of the world” to indicate the need to continually seek a balance between the tendency to change and the need for this change to produce beauty. That beauty that 2,500 years ago, Plato already considered a necessary guide to pursue right through its intrinsic connection with beauty: whomsoever builds the State in the name of beauty, does so in the name of ‘good’. Plato’s statesman is like a painter who paints on canvas: both are guided by their search for beauty.

So, let’s try to build beautiful cities and we will obtain really livable Smart Cities. Let’s try to develop beautiful relationships, and we will have a better understanding of how to use social networks to become enriched rather than to drain our humanity. Let’s try to build a future where technology helps us represent beauty, and we will find it a role in the direction of sustainability.

Let’s try to bring out that beauty which emerges too little, today, when we talk about innovation. That beauty that we must bring back to being the focus of the reasoning on innovation and digital transformation. As it is precisely this search for beauty that will help us push change in the right direction.


Stefano Epifani