On this Independence Day here in the U.S. there is perhaps no more appropriate time to be writing about innovation. Our founding fathers (and less-credited founding mothers) were unquestionably among the greatest innovators of all time. This anniversary marks the official declaration of the “pursuit of happiness” as a basic human right that no government has the right to suppress. It’s phrasing that we don’t hear very often and it can sound a bit shallow out of context. Yet it doesn’t take a lot of reflection to grasp the brilliance in its simplicity.
Some of the same minds went on to define our modern notions of freedom of religion, and speech in ways that were unprecedented in human history. And, like all great innovators, they also made some mistakes. By, for example, agreeing that each slave counted as 3/5ths of a person for purposes of apportioning representation in Congress, and never seriously considering that woman should have the right to vote.
If any of the founders were around today, I suspect they would divide into at least two camps, just like so many other innovators. Some would be determined to protect and defend their intellectual property from anyone who might dare to tinker with it. Others would see their creations as part of s larger progression and welcome further changes and enhancements. I imagine they would choose various positions that would probably fall along the same broad political spectrum we see today. But they’d have the benefit of having already witnessed many waves of debate and controversy about their work. So I suspect they wouldn’t get too worked up about the latest constitutional controversy du jour—just be proud to accept credit for their contributions.
Clearly, they were revolutionaries. I think they’d be pleased to also be called innovators, and pleased that the nation they began has fostered so much innovation in so many ways since then. Apart from political theory and government institutions, it’s a willingness to embrace innovation—the courage to challenge the status quo and continually pursue something better—that may be their greatest legacy.
It’s served us well so far.
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