Why does Western 21st century culture put so little value on new ideas and the people that produce them? In popular 21st Century culture, it’s too much about the front person. Inventors, like policy makers or Olympic coaches, barely warrant a second thought and are essentially faceless to the public.

When someone does become a celebrity, it’s generally their ‘stage performance’ that puts them in the limelight. Film Directors/Sports Coaches/Academic Professors have to act up for the cameras, or come from a brilliant actor/player/TV presenter pedigree to become a celebrity in their own right (think Profs Brian Cox and Prof Robert Winston as examples of popular science TV presenters). As for the sports equipment that enables the player to excel, does that design team get serious media exposure? Rarely, unless it’s Formula One racing.

Interestingly, when people do buy a designer brand (upper premium rather than luxury branded), whether hand bag, clothing, champagne, art work, jewelry or car, the designer name is paramount in the purchaser’s mind. However, apart from the name (and the potential investment value of the item), does the purchaser know anything else of the designer – their life, values, influences and viewpoints?

The masses crave; improved convenience, new functionality, designer brands, prolonged good health, instant fame, enhanced beauty and cool new tunes. So who do they think will create those things? And if they value new designs, why not revere the actual  inventors behind the brands? Granted, when it comes to music, the band and vocalist are a vital part of any music performance, whether the venue is; You Tube, Opera House or a gritty, busking pavement. But even then, the hardest part is still crafting fantastic music and lyrics in the first place (made even harder if you’re Beethoven, designing complex symphonies while going progressively deaf).

Looking ahead, even with the advent of ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient manufacturing (3D additive printing, when it rolls out more extensively), the value will still be added by the designers (and software writers) at the initial stage.

They say making art is a three phase process of vision, interpretation and subsequent execution. A three-legged stool that’s only as strong as its weakest link. The same could be said for the general innovation process end-to-end. Sometimes, all those phases are encapsulated in one brilliant person. Nicola Tesla (1856-1943) and Thomas Edison (1847-1931) are both prime examples. Both worked independently in intense rivalry. Both helped develop something whose usefulness arguably still hasn’t been surpassed – electricity development and its application.

These days, multi-functional, networked teams work in internal/global competition on vision, interpretation and execution. The process consumes energy to produce ideas. The ideas themselves generate energy, but often save energy too. Such researchers capture the latest improvements as they’re published. They incorporate new insights and new materials into their work in the shortest possible time, in the race to be best and commercialise first.

So why can’t the masses provide support to the designers who move society forward, rather than entertainers who simply ‘fill in the waiting time’?  And what form would that support take?

  • Monitor where current trends will take the World, to better grasp the significance of certain discoveries.
  • Learn about the Nobel prize submissions each year.
  • Attend the design-award ceremonies in person and applaud the achievements (why do stadiums sell out for large sports fixtures and rock concerts, yet scale down significantly for innovation ceremonies?).
  • Become philanthropic donors (of time and money) to support pure and applied research.
  • Rise above the myths and dis-information floated about various ‘evil science’ work.
  • Campaign for media providers to re-focus on design process and design achievement programmes, rather than reality-TV shows, sitcoms and satires.
  • Lastly and most importantly, inspire and encourage their kids to become the next generation of innovators, through education and ‘life-long learning’.

Time to start investing some emotional energy in areas where it matters.