09/08/2014 10:09 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Innovation: Devise With Revisionary Eyes

Politicians use the term "revisionist" (or "flip-flop") to label challenger and foe alike as a liar or as inconstant as a horse midstream. Of course this claim is absurd given that most intractable wars, intolerable religious practices and counterproductive laws are the result of sticking to a tired idea or outmoded philosophy. History is pocked with politicians and commanders who have dug in and kept on to the grave. Revisionary should not be taken here to mean that we cover up the truth of our past inhumanity or indiscretion but rather that we incorporate all experiences, virtuous and otherwise, in the hope that they may do us good as we learn anew and venture forth.

The long held axiom, "seeing is believing," and its whammy zammy cousin, "believing is seeing," are both slightly aslant. Scientist and spiritualist alike know well that "unseeing is believing." While vision holds us constant on the path to growth, ignoring all signs and detours along the way speeds us along to our ruin. Our certainty blinds us to our opportunities. The Oracle at Delphi prophesied to both general and mage in structured ambiguities. They took these proclamations as inevitable affirmations of their own wishes and followed them to an ironic demise. One may see the new with old glasses, but not without keeping watch for it. So we are charged with the most difficult task of remaining true to our aim yet adaptable to adjust more than just our course - to change our destination and begin again.

The London Cholera Epidemic of 1854 turned Dickensian streets bleak with the death of over six-hundred residents in span of just two weeks. The prevailing "miasma theory" posited that the disease was caused by polluted or "bad air" and brought about a host of remedies that involved everything from chemical treatments rung out from censers like myrrh and frankincense at high mass to an assemblage of large fans to blow the noxious vapors away. In the midst of the panic, while others were devising new ways to move air, physician John Snow made a rather macabre map of the City marking the spot where each victim perished. The data soon revealed that the disease spread from the contaminated Broad Street Pump. The handle was promptly removed from the apparatus and the epidemic quickly dissipated. Unhooking from conventional wisdom, Snow postulated the poison as a waterborne pathogen and the science of epidemiology followed.

The heliocentric cosmology of Copernicus and the special relativity of Einstein are both celebrated examples of game-changing theories that came from lionized figures who trusted neither their senses nor accepted wisdom. But such illumination requires more than a satori flash of sudden awareness or kindly synchronicity. It also demands that we change what we see and believe to be true. Unmoved, our situation may conspire to turn us around so that we may face a new direction. Things look different after the divorce. There is an aura of growth than can only be seen when we look for paths to unfamiliar places in our own lands and become strangers to ourselves. To truly believe is the same as not believing at all, for in either case we are not open to what we encounter along the way. Growth travels with us in our age to change our view, our mind and our destiny. As with innovation itself, we are a work in progress.