Published On: Mon, Dec 9th, 2013

The conscience, curiosity and innovation

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“We hold these ‘truths’ to be self-evident.”

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the above statement, America and, indeed, the greater part of the world, were ushered into a dimension of living based on the mental awareness and agreement with an unwritten code of principles based on conscience. It was these principles that drove trade, discovery and human relations. By them, the richest nation in the world was built.

Martin Luther King, Jnr, had to draw inspiration from same principles to help win the war against racial discrimination.

“We hold these ‘truths’ to be self-evident.”

Note that the statement is personalised – “we” hold them to be self-evident.Truths are not tangible materials and cannot be held by the hands but with the mind. They are also not “self-evident” by themselves till we hold them in our minds. Not holding them does not deny their presence except that we cannot experience the good in them.


Obviously, by Thomas Jefferson’s thinking, some things were simply the right things to do (as determined by his conscience) and his mind agreed with them (self-evident). When we talk of evidence, we imply reason (the mind). The American Declaration of Independence and the self-evidencing truths proclaimed also brought God to the discussion (beginning of wisdom). The declaration read in part “…endowed by the Creator to certain inalienable rights”. This means that there must be an anchor to “truth” or it would be an opinion. Thus, with regard to morals, individuals can mentally assent to and appreciate certain virtues simply because they are right (a qualitative term qualified by the conscience).


It is not only morals that are self-evident. To appreciate this, let us consider a growing individual, organisation or civilisation.Growth implies that we come across certain truths previously beyond our reach. These truths could be ideas on how our world is, how people behave, how business is done, what is right about dating and marriage, etc.

There is an interval between a man’s awareness of truth (conscience) and the period it becomes self-evident (mental assent).  It is called the Arena of Faith.

Today, it is a self-evident truth that planes can fly in the air faster than the speed of sound; but at a certain time the possibility of a flight first existed as “awareness” in the mind of the Wright brothers and some other individuals. A computer operating system is an evidenced truth which initially was just”awareness” to someone earlier.

Innovations come first as”awareness” akin to moral awareness of truth with or without rational or scientific backing. The individual interacts with this “awareness” of which he is maybe inept at explaining but convinced nonetheless — the arena of faith.

To mentally conceptualise and bring about a practical demonstration of a man’s awareness, his mind must be involved. To bring about a change in seen circumstances, the mind must first be transformed. For centuries, the United States of America demonstrated that the moral values embedded in the “self-evidencing truths” can make a nation great. Businesses and breakthroughs were built based on those truths. Sadly, we are also seeing the destruction that has arisen because those truths have become perverted. Though they are still there, few men now hold them to be self-evident.

Faith is the mental agreement with unseen realities. To some, this awareness comes from dreams, intuition, sixth sense or just a knowing of how things should be. To others, it comes from analytical reviews of events and results from nature, science and scripture. The responsibility, however, is for the recipient to have the mind to hold the “awareness”. The mental capacity to translate this awareness to practical facts or material realities is one that is born out of skills or an ability born out of training. In other words, it is not enough to be aware. One has to retain the capacity to translate such awareness. This awareness is always born out of the spiritual but is always translated by the mental, thus the case for mental development.


In Africa, as the agent of change intercedes for a nation’s plight in prayers, as one deliberates on issues that concern one’s nation, one becomes exposed to certain “awareness of truth”, that is, certain things which have to be and are right. Our responsibility is to make these truths evident.

As we become “aware” (conscience not limited to morals) of certain things that ought to be, let us not separate the mind from it. Africa is waiting for you and me to make certain truths self-evident.


Nobel laureate Professor, Warner Arber of the University of Basel, Switzerland, was once asked his source of motivation. He answered: “It is my personal curiosity that drives me; curiosity that is stimulated by each new finding. New questions are constantly being thrown up and you can’t pursue them all. You have to be selective and, usually, you intuitively choose those questions that provide the greatest motivation.”

I have often thought of what motivated men like Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton. What was the source of their curiosity? Was it boredom? Did they perceive that any good was to come from their understanding?

This curiosity is a necessity for invention. Prof. Arber, at the time he made the above statement (1994), was working on microbial evolution and it is deducible not only from his experience but from objective data that there is always an interplay between a man’s curiosity and the nature of the man himself. An African challenge is a diminished capacity for, and an investigation of our curiosities. For instance, to verify and maximise the information in this article, a degree of extra research would be necessary. Very few people have the time, will or the resources for such endeavours.

The “survival” posture does not allow for that, neither does entertainment. Much more than lack, entertainment has robbed us of the immense rewards that come from investigating things that interest us within our limited means. This “amusement posture” is deadly.

Another limiting factor is when the sole purpose of an enterprise is to create money and not necessarily value. The difference in attitude is critical. It is the same reason some learned professors in the universities are not contributing much to the GDP. Once the aim of showing up in the marketplace is monetary, one unwittingly places a cap on the quality and quantity of the output.

It is always better to see enterprise as service to society. This posture makes the work itself the pleasure – one that is immediately satisfying yet without limits. Money becomes compensation and incentive for more work without the unnecessary pressures that preoccupation with money entails.

With such a disposition, money is channelled towards addressing certain curiosities, as seen with the iPod, iPad and BlackBerry devices. Necessity is not always the mother of invention, but curiosity is. The desire to satisfy his own curiosity against all odds was what sent man flying in the first place.


What really is the best option for a private venture-powered energy solution in my nation? What should be the nature of the public-private partnership? What of research issues? Are there tax shelters for research and development in this and other sectors? Can there be? How best do I attract foreign investments within the current legal and political framework? What of health care research? What are we missing?

Who really are the policy makers? Which business will benefit from the cheap labour in Nigeria? What of the West African market? Are there patented materials that can help my work? Is there an opportunity in the pool of distressed but skilled Africans in Diaspora?What can we do to improve the quality of what our enterprise or organisation is offering? Do we need to partner with a local university or partner with a research team? What is the nature of such partnerships? How can a researcher scientist reap maximum benefits from the result of his work while helping a business make more profits? Isn’t research supposed to solve domestic problems? Why are they not solving such problems? Is this failure not an opportunity? What do I need to know to be of help? Do I need more training? Can I apply these to my small business?

Considering the trained human resource in some developing African nation like ours, are there potentials for technology transfers? Where? What should be the nature of such transfers? Are there examples of such transfers? How did the Asian tigers emerge? What had to be sacrificed? Is that method reproducible in my nation and region? If yes, why not? What competencies do I need to gain to be able to contribute positively to such possibilities?


The questions are wide and varied, and, like Prof Arber said, you are intuitively led to those that provide the greatest motivation. It doesn’t cost a dime to think! Just ask questions, find the answers, and ask again.

If Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac wasn’t thinking like this, he wouldn’t have offered Pharaoh of Egypt the proposal that got him the plum post of Prime Minister. Yet, the Pharaohs don’t give appointments. Often, you would get only one unsolicited opportunity, and your offer would reflect the quality of your private deliberations. I believe the young Joseph had been deliberating on issues of state and sustenance. Had he not been deliberating, he wouldn’t have had a clue on grain preservation and the percentage to propose. He would, at best, have been offered the headship of astrologers and magicians for his dream interpretation capacity.

Remember that Pharaoh didn’t ask Joseph for the solution, he asked for an interpretation. Joseph made a proposal because he was concerned; his concern allowed him to access the creative.

Who are you?  What are your convictions and curiosities? Know that you cannot pursue them all at once but you must pursue. In the words of J.F. Kennedy, “We may not be able to achieve these in a day, in a year or in a thousand years, but let us begin, let’s begin.”

Adapted from “The Third Source of Innovation” in “The Heart and Art of Innovation” by Nelson Okwonna, Onel Media Services, Lagos, 2012.


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The conscience, curiosity and innovation