I originally ran this article on Wed, Oct 12, 2005 in my original blog. There has been a lot of activity in our industry lately. In Ohio and at the national level! Perhaps that is why this article kept coming into my mind. Nothing in particular that I can point my finger at....it just kept nagging at me. So with some small changes I have chosen to re-run it. RK
Updated 11-06-11. RK
Recently I have had an e-mail debate with someone (who will not permit me to publish the debate) who kept accusing me of not being an original thinker. It was a point I was more than willing to concede, since I am more concerned with factual thinking versus original thinking. This person seemed to think this was the linchpin of his logic, because he kept making it over and over again. His last comment was that no matter how hard I tried I was never going to be an original thinker. No matter how many times I agreed with him he kept irrationally making the charge as if it was some new and terrible insight that I should care about. This silly debate did however trigger a series of questions in my mind.
1. What is an original thinker?
2. What constitutes original thinking?
3. Who decides what is original?
4. What makes original thinking so important?
5. Does original thinking have to be factual?
6. Is original thinking more important than factual thinking?
7. Is original thinking only philosophical and is philosophical thinking the only original thoughts?
8. If original thinking is only philosophical, why should it be taken seriously?
9. Is original thinking contrary to traditional thinking?
10. Is original thinking contrary to conventional thinking?
11. Is original thinking actually conventional thinking?
12. If it becomes conventional and or traditional thinking is it original anymore?
13. Can original thinking become conventional or traditional thinking?
14. How often do we think originally?
15. If we think originally all the time, how many times can we be right?
16. Is original thinking actually retread old thinking couched in new terms?
17. Are new thinking and original thinking the same thing? Is it neither?
18. Lastly, is there really such a thing as original thinking?
I was interested in what others thought about these points and sent these questions out to my Green Notes net. The first respondent was Frank Gasperini who worked at RISE at the time. Frank has graciously allowed me to reprint his comments.
Rich,Since I had some errands to run I had time to think about what all was said, I came to the conclusion that there are really two types of original thinkers.
Not a direct answer, but a few Saturday morning 'musings". Original thinking is a wonderful and important thing, our world would not be the same without it, however if you think about "original thinkers" and the product of their ideas through reading history, you will find that the so called "original thinker" often completely misunderstood or failed to recognize the significance of his work-product--- and--- that those of us who embrace the concept of "Innovative Imitation" tend to be the ones who not only thrive and profit, but present humankind with the real benefits of the "original thinker's" work. This does not in any way denigrate the "original thinker", but it certainly does justify and elevate the role of the "innovative imitator".
Remember the old adage about pioneers--- 'the pioneer is the one likely to take the arrows, the pilgrim who follows ends up developing and owning the farm'. I once worked for the company that invented Gortex, but while they believed it to be a wonderful and "elegant" discovery, did not see any real value for it and thus "spun it off" to some ex-employees. I bet they wish they had kept that product--- but they invented it, failed to capitalize on its value because they only wanted to "original" things with it, not use it to do a better job of "old" things, and certainly not to "copy" anything someone else may have thought of.
There is an OLD "Harvard Business Review" classic article titled "Innovative Imitation" (mid 1970s?). It discussed in detail how innovators, 'pure researchers', and companies 'long on science and technology, but short on adaptability and willingness to imitate' end up inventing wonderful ideas that someone else profits from after they go belly-up. The old concept of 'if we didn't invent it (original thinking), we are not interested in it almost killed American industry at one point--- do you recall any "original thinking" from "Japan, Inc."? No, they took the best ideas developed by the world's "original thinkers" and improved and simplified them to fill the needs of real people!
Well, enough of a rant. I no longer consider myself a scientist, I am no longer interested in "elegant, or original thinking" for its own sake--- I am interested in ideas that make the lives of people easier and better, that protect people and the environment from harm, and whose benefits outweigh the risks. And, yes I am willing to take risks as long as they are outweighed by the benefits.
The first represent what I call the “nuts and bolts” thinkers. These are the people that actually come up with products and services that benefit society. This type absolutely relies on truthful information. The success is in the facts. These are people that are the “doers, and builders rather than the vandals and vacant philosophers”.
The second type of original thinker is what I call the “ideological” thinkers. These people rely on concepts and philosophy that may or may not be factual. History is replete with these types of individuals. They have the tendency to adopt the attitude, “I am going to get the truth out there and I don’t care how many lies I have to tell”.
The 20th century has had more than its share of these “ideological thinkers”. (Please view this 11-04-11 article written by Ellis Washington entitled, Alfred Kinsey's sexual revolution, where he discusses many of these "original thinkers"! RK)
Marx started a philosophical political movement that was the basis for socialism and communism. Among the great murderers of the 20th century were Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and Pot Pol. It has been estimated these socialist/communists (Hitler was a socialist by the way) original thinkers killed over 100 million people.
Margaret Sanger, Margaret Mead and Alfred Kinsey under the guise of science set patterns of behavior into motion that has had serious social consequences ever since. Because of them society could now justify why it was acceptable to abandon values that are absolutely essential for maintaining a stable society.
Rachel Carson can be directly blamed for the death of millions as a result of her work to eliminate DDT. Although “junk science” has always existed (snake oil salesmen are a good example) and was practiced by the above mentioned people, Carson’s greatest achievement is that her success as a junk scientist was so profound she could reasonably be called the mother of modern junk science. Her acolytes have made it policy.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of original thinkers in the 20th century who caused devastation in their wake. Sadly, if you are to believe the reports of their personal lives there is every indication these people all had serious emotional problems and no affection for the traditional values they set out to destroy, nor did they have a deep attachment to facts, especially those facts that are not in harmony with their brand of “original thinking”.
Consistency is somewhat of an alien concept for them also. The first Earth Day the greenies screamed that humanity faced “a new ice age”; and the reason? Industrial pollution in the atmosphere! Today they scream “global warming” and the reason; Industrial pollution in the atmosphere.
Con artists and “ideological thinkers” have a great deal in common. Call it a shell game, three or card Monte or for that matter the Montreal Protocol or the Kyoto Accord or whatever works to fool the public, it’s all the same. Is this really original? Both of these international agreements are based on science that was dubious at best at the very beginning and as more current information comes to light it appears to be wrong.
Using misinformation to attain the goals of power and money is nothing new. The tools and names of those tools may change over time, but it is still about power and money. There is nothing original about that at all. That bodes well the question; is there really any “original thinking” if it doesn’t produce products and services to make life better?
I think the phrase “original thinker” is over used. When people use it as a condemnation of those that disagree with them, it is a cop out so as to not answer the challenges to their “ideological thinking”. It is a form of intimidation that says; “you had better not disagree with me or you are a backward thinker”, or as I was recently called..."a flat Earther" because of my views on IPM in structural pest control
I have concluded that in areas of ideology and philosophy there are no original thinkers, no original thoughts and no original outcomes. It turns out there really isn’t anything new under the sun. The fact is that those that proclaim they are original thinkers have in reality become a herd of non-conformists being washed back and forth by the latest philosophical flavor of the day. They are a bunch “self perpetuating head nodders sitting in an echo chamber of self congratulations” who aggrandize themselves by calling themselves global problem solvers. For ideological thinking to become original thinking it must be just as concerned with facts as “nuts and bolts thinking”. Otherwise it is just three card Monte.
For those that would accuse me of not being an original thinker, I say - Thank You! I accept!
"Some ideas seem so plausible that they can fail nine times in a row and still be believed the tenth time. Other ideas seem so implausible that they can succeed nine times in a row and still not be believed the tenth time." - Thomas Sowell