Science and the arts are often portrayed as polar opposites: scientists methodically pursue facts and truth while artists soar over the landscape of everyday detail to imagine and design what’s possible. In today’s age of specialization, it’s been engrained in many of us that we must choose between the two seemingly incompatible worlds. But such a stilted school of thought is stunting our growth – as individuals, as leaders, as businesses, and as a competitive global economy – believes renowned innovator and creator Bran Ferren. To create for the ages, he says, we must combine engineering and art.
The world’s biggest problems require non-linear solutions, argues Ferren, co-founder of Applied Minds, a design and invention firm dedicated to distilling game-changing inventions. Yet, as a society, we aren’t wired to foster the unique blend of capabilities needed to create them.
In his recent TED talk, Ferren points to Rome’s famed Pantheon – a 2,000+-year-old marvel of creative vision and structure. Still the largest unreinforced dome ever built, the Pantheon took miracles to build, “things that are technically barely possible, very high risk and might not actually have been accomplishable at that moment in time,” he explains. Ferren visited the Pantheon for the first time at age nine, and ever since, he’s been on a quest to discover a modern-day example of innovation that exemplifies how art, design and beauty can magnify the power of science and engineering.
Certain that the “ingredients for the next Pantheons are all around us, waiting for visionary people with multidisciplinary skills to make them,” he’s just as firm in his belief that, “these people don’t spontaneously pop into existence. They need to be nurtured.” That nurturing means integrated, rather than siloed, learning. It also means building resilience, with failure and iteration a necessary part of the creative process.
These are poignant and provocative lessons – and challenges – for all of us: teachers and students, organizations and leaders. For Ferren, it’s simple. The intersection of art and design with science and engineering will produce outcomes that aren’t just successful, but important and sustaining triumphs.
A former lead Imagineer for Walt Disney R&D who holds over 500 current or pending patents, Ferren speaks with unique authority on creativity and innovation in enterprises – how to get it to happen and how to organize it. He’s a firm believer that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. You might be interested in reading the TED blog, “What will be our Pantheon?” as well as a feature profile in Wired, which brings to life Ferren’s passion for and commitment to creating environments that stimulate constant, boundless learning.