The Age of Ingenuity

September 11 gave us the best chance to reinvent the future - one idea at a time

| March/April 2002

September 11 gave us the best chance yet to reinvent the future—one idea at a time

Looking around the world today, it’s easy to lose hope. Bloodshed, poverty, and destruction dominate the headlines. There seems little anyone can do to resolve such tragedies. The mightiest forces on earth—armies, corporations, governments—appear overwhelmed by the immensity of it all. What can anybody do to make a difference?

Plenty, according to a small but growing international movement. The first step, say these feisty advocates of something called social inventions, is to stop looking to powerful leaders and large institutions for all the solutions. The best, bravest, most practical ideas often come from people outside the corridors of power. Free from the assumptions imposed by conventional wisdom, they blow fresh air into political and cultural discussions.

Another key point this movement makes is that large problems may best be tackled in small ways. A simple plan to empower African women within their families might accomplish more than a thousand foreign aid initiatives. Encouraging schoolkids to take care of one small patch of planet Earth might launch a green revolution.

Social invention simply means applying human creativity in new ways to solve social problems—something that can be done just as effectively by everyday citizens as by big shots and experts. In this cover story we explore the promise of social inventing, offer tips on how to do it yourself and present real-world examples drawn from the new book The World’s Greatest Ideas: An Encyclopedia of Social Inventions.

—Jay Walljasper