I just finished reading The Power of Why by Amanda Lang. She’s a Canadian journalist so her vantage point is close to home. When you live in a country where the entire population is essentially equal that of the state of California, it’s nice to read something “local”.
Lang explores an idea that in itself isn’t really new. It’s fascinating and can be consistently reapplied: the idea that if we don’t ask “why”, we are dead in the water. I get a little stuck when she parallels Eve’s “innocent exploration” of how an apple tastes with an “innocent drive to innovate”. But for the most part, Lang makes valid points about the necessity of innovation. When we stop experimenting and asking questions, we fail to grow, thrive and move forward. Technology is accelerating—so must we.
Her book is full of personal anecdotes (she ‘innovated’ a way to jog up a long hill without stopping: she stops before the ascent to catch her breath) and stories of entrepreneurship (why didn’t the new Coke work? Why did Kodak fail? How did shrimp researcher Addison Lawson figure out a way to increase production and thereby contribute towards the problem of world hunger? Why did Toronto business, Prairie Girl Cupcakes, succeed?). Lang is at her best when she traces her journey through a momentous career change as a young adult. It took a lot of experimentation, self-reflection and the asking of hard questions for Lang to make the leap from architecture to journalism. Evidently, we the reader get to benefit from the effects of that particular innovative moment. Point made.
It’s an inspiring read. Mind you, the book critiques current educational systems without really showing the long-term gains of innovative educational systems (it only gives one example of ‘innovative education’: BC’s Quest University) and Lang sometimes mixes up causation with correlation. Nevertheless, she makes you want to look at life with eyes wide open. You never have to throw your hands up in frustrated defeat because according to studies, creativity is a learned trait, not just an inherited one.
She encourages us to be analytical and to dream beyond the bounds of reality — minus cynicism, minus pessimism. This is, in fact, a very biblical mindset and a drive that reverberates the wisdom of Phil 4:13, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”.
As Christ-followers, we must of course negotiate the very delicate balance between submitting to authority and asking challenging, innovative questions to figure out how to make life better for society at large. It’s in our ethic and our worldview to value both tradition and innovation. And it’s dangerous to demonize one or the other. May God give us wisdom to wield both wisely.