How does beauty matter for innovation? I recently sat down to interview philologist and cultural historian Dr. Luca Cottini of Villanova University, who runs a fantastic YouTube channel called Italian Innovators. And in our conversation, we explored how beauty matters for innovation in science, art, and entrepreneurship.
For Dr. Cottini, scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs are essentially on the same journey – an adventure to discover something new about reality. We had a wide-ranging conversation about Galileo, Gianotti, Campari, Olivetti, Ducati, Bugatti, and more.
You can check out the podcast interview and video below. A transcript of the interview follows. Please take a moment to subscribe to the podcast and the youtube channel; it helps the show get more attention. Thanks!
Brandon: Tell me what attracted you to study design and innovation.
Luca: I am a classical philologist. Moving to the United States, I started to observe Italian culture not only from the perspective of literature, which is a very high pitch on a culture, but I started to include the vision of middlebrow and lower brow arts or languages, or perceived as such, like fashion, design, advertising, cinema, photography. I started to include them in a holistic vision of Italian culture, bridging the canonic separation between what are called the literary studies and what are called the material studies. Design is a space in between the strategic mindset — business, entrepreneurship — and the creative mindset, the creation of an image, or an imagination of a culture which comes in the visual arts and literature.
So in this sense, design as a word means two things in the Italian context. In the English sense, design means planning. It has to do with engineering. But in the Italian sense, disegno, design means drawing. So, the activity of design is an activity that combines strategic thinking and creative thinking — the drawing of a vision, which is basically the combination of generalism and particularism or the collocation of the parts within a universe of meaning.
In the sense, also, the word engineering is a two-way word. It comes from the Latin word ingenium, which means the 'strategic mindset' but also, it's a word that is behind the word ingenuity in English, the creative aspect. In this sense, I observed data, the model, as a significant case or rather a unique case where a culture produces a model of innovation that is both aesthetic and strategic or entrepreneurial or scientific, if you want.
In this sense, in observing Italian culture from a holistic perspective as a design or a deliberate design, I trace in my show and in my research the model or an alternative model of entrepreneurship that aims at innovating not just the functioning of objects, but also their meaning — to make them important. The word important comes from importane, which means 'to mean something.' That's where I am, and that's where I think Italian culture can provide an interesting model of reflection, also to the American context.
Brandon: Yeah. Well, one of the things that I'm really interested in is the contributions of Italian culture, particularly the aesthetic culture in Italy over time to innovation, particularly in the sciences. It's perhaps no accident that Galileo is considered the father of modern science.
What do you think might have contributed to that? Even the Renaissance is one of the key contributions, I suppose, of Italy to the world. What's going on in that context that produces someone like Galileo that allows the scientific creativity and innovation that we see with him?
Luca: Well, thanks for asking. Galileo is an interesting case. Because he was actually the son of one of the musicians/composers that launched the movement to revive the ancient sang theatre, which then ended up in the creation or recreation of opera as melodrama, action sang in Greek. Vincenzo Galilei was a composer, a musician. I absolutely think that Galileo, the son's activity, was influenced by this humanistic take on reality. Meaning, this intellectual endeavor to literally read through intellegere — which is the origin of the word intellectual — to read through, to connect the dots, to see a particular aspect of reality as part of a whole, of a broader sky.
So, it is actually quite fascinating that Galileo is a paradigm of entrepreneurial thinking but also of creative thinking, in the one sense. Because Galileo was the first who really shifted planes in adopting the telescope. The telescope was already used by the Dutch. It was mainly used, predominantly used in sea navigation as a tool for maritime exploration.
Galileo was the first one who shifted planes and said, "Well, why don't we use this to actually observe the sky?" That's how he found out an original discovery. On the other hand, Galileo has also a creative mind because the impact of his discovery was filtered through drawing. It's actually quite fascinating to see in the Sidereus Nuncius, Sidereal Messenger, the first book he published in 1611, where he drew literally the observation of the moon that he conducted in Padova in 1609. It's quite fascinating that a scientist feels the need to draw this — going back to the idea of disegno as drawing. At the same time, then, in The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, actually, Galileo adopts fiction to convey the scientific theory on the idiocentric scientific theory.
It's quite remarkable that a scientist adopts a fictional dialogue to promote a scientific theory. Who of us will do that now? In this sense, his contemporary mirror can come from the Italian scientist, Fabiola Gianotti, who is the head of the research center, the CERN in Geneva that found out the Higgs boson. She was actually the one who announced it in 2012. What is fascinating about Fabiola Gianotti is that she actually has a degree in piano. Once again, the connection between music and science.
This is quite interesting to me. Because if I observe the starry sky at night, what I might see very cynically is actually a blue background with infinite dots that might not make much meaning in sight. I might observe one. I might focus on one, losing the awareness of the constellations, or I might see dots while in connection with the others, and see how a dot is part of a larger constellation of meaning. This is where I think the beauty or the creative element helps or enhances the scientific research, lifting the gaze from a myopic emphasis, on a detail, to a larger understanding of the position of each dot within the universe. This is particularly helpful. This is also a part of many of the speeches that you can find on YouTube by Fabiola Gianotti. I absolutely recommend them.
In this sense, I will reframe the idea of STEM — which is what we normally associate to only scientific technological engineering, mathematical paradigm — to something different. So, I want to reframe the acronym into Scientia which is actually the earlier word for science, which in Latin actually meant just 'knowledge,' knowledge as such. After Galileo, all the word science came to indicate only the knowledge that we acquire through a particular process — the scientific method applied to the natural sciences.
But scientia, in its earlier origin, actually identified all knowledge of reality, also including the humanities. In this sense, also, Dante was a great scientist. There are a lot of parts of astronomy in The Divine Comedy. Science as this understanding of the humanities and technology together. Then there is a word with T, which is the word technê. It's a Greek word, which actually means both 'art and technique'. The idea that, in order to do something well, you need art to do it. You need a certain craft in doing it, not just the understanding of details but really the zeal for details. Then E, I would think of it as entrepreneurship or as the energy of realization. Because you can have a great idea. You can find a great idea. But how to communicate it and how to realize it in a product in the industry requires a particular creative energy and strategic energy.
The last one is Marvel. Because an object without marvel, or an object without a story cannot endure. I normally use the example of the company Nike to explain this. Imagine the company Nike without the swoosh, the logo — the visual representation — or without the three words, Just Do It, that are associated or that associate the brand with a particular narration of movement, dynamism, athleticism. Without that visual communication, without that marvel, that branding, or the fictional communication of Galileo generates, the object will remain bear. It would lose its appeal. That is how many innovations in the scientists, in technology, actually lose traction and lose their power.
Once again, [Steve] Jobs was the one who really was able to connect the functionality that was already existing into a powerful narration of ourselves in the world with the iPhone. That's how this became something relevant and not just a crazy idea.
Brandon: Yeah, that's brilliant. I think that there are a lot of themes here that you touched on that I'd love to pick up on. One of them was the link between parts and the whole, which is a classical feature of beauty — proportional relationships between the parts and the hole. Even Werner Heisenberg talked about that as being the key definition of beauty. It's that link.
The challenge, I suppose, in a lot of science today is the hyper specialization that a lot of folks are feeling. We've heard, in the scientists I've interviewed, a number of them saying, "I really feel like a narrow, overspecialized technician. I only know one small aspect of my sub field, and I have no ability to connect anything I'm doing to the bigger picture." Certainly, those who are able to see the big picture are able to experience a sense of beauty.
Do you think that the education system in Italy has been able to preserve this ability to see the big picture, to connect these dots as you're saying? Do you find that even the cultural context there has become, to some degree, infected by this plague of overspecialization? What is your sense of the context in which scientists today or even folks in the humanities are being formed in Italy?
Luca: Well, this is something that relates to Italian culture in general. That might be an interesting contribution to a different understanding of ourselves here in the United States. The first thing I would say about Italian culture is that in the education system, the humanities have a more predominant position. So, it's a humanities-centered education. Whereas here, it's like a STEM-centered form of schooling.
In this sense, the humanities provide a holistic understanding of a culture, which might find the reflection in the peculiar Italian setting or in the pure Italian creation of movements that are interdisciplinary. If you think about the Renaissance, the Baroque, or in modern times, Futurism or Neo-realism, they are all movements that start from a dominant aesthetic idea and applied through different languages. The Renaissance is not just painting, but it's the idea of the harmony of parts, the rediscovery of the classics applied in painting and sculpture, in architecture, in theater, in literature as well. In the same way, as the aesthetic idea of modernity and the future has bring forth applies to the vision of design, photography, literature, theater.
So, this is an interesting model. Instead of an overspecialization on one idea disconnected from all the other languages, instead the ability to turn one single idea, one innovative idea into a platform to create different languages that are informed by that idea, but have their own autonomy. In this sense, a good equivalent for the industrial world can come from the industry of Campari drinks, the apéritif.
Brandon: Yeah, of course.
Luca: Campari is really an interesting avant-garde in marketing communication. Because they turned a drink, a red drink, into a platform that can generate different other languages. They invested a lot in photography. They invested in cinema. Just to give you a sense, Fellini and Sorrentino — the last Italian director to win the Academy Award — did many movies for Campari. Campari started to promote architecture. It became really one of the platforms for the development of new architecture structure. So, the idea of one overarching idea that spreads and permeates other linguistic forms or aesthetic languages, reinventing them anew.
The last thing I would say about Italian culture is that it's a very relational culture. The social dimension of relations translates into products that are tools for a dialogue, and not just tools for trade in the sense of just monetary exchange. The relational structure or the relational space par excellence is the piazza — the place where people get together, where identities are negotiated, even in conflict of terms, if you want but where people truly engage with each other, and are truly communicating something to each other. This is something that can become translatable on the internet. But too often, it's not. Because the internet tends to relegate the individual bodies in their individual compartments. It's actually way more convenient. But this generates first miscomprehension.
Then a flat dimension of the product is just something that produces a monetary functional value when the actual value of the product is the story and the breadth that it contains, and how it means something to us. This is something that we can learn from the Italian environment, certainly.
Brandon: Can you tell me from your experience of the various examples of innovators you've studied in the last little while, are there examples that stand out of how encounters with beauty have spurred creativity or innovation? Anything that comes to mind that can help illuminate what role beauty plays in the process of innovation?
Luca: There are, certainly, in the industrial environment numerous examples of the relationship between the industry and the creation of beautiful environments. I will name three. One is the example of Ermenegildo Zegna. It's the leading company in the production of wool. It's one of the top fashion brands. What is interesting is that the company — which was founded in northern Piedmont, northern Italy, in the 1910s by Ermenegildo Zegna — launched in the 1930's an incredible project of reforestation around the factory, the main plant. In the 1930s, the founder planted 500,000 trees around the plant to create what now is called an oasiz, Oasi Zegna, which has become a protected area. His idea was to connect the production of wool to the beauty of the natural environment. To bypass the inevitable alienation of work, and connect it, connect the work and wool to its natural source, and also to its natural environment. How many times we lose sense of the nature behind, for example, the food that we eat, where it comes from? He says he wanted to connect what we wear, the production of wool, to that sense of beauty that comes from being part of an environment, of a beautiful natural environment.
The second example is Brunello Cucinelli. It's the king of cashmere. In Umbria, in central Italy, he created a company which is all based on philosophy. Basically, in his board, he has Benedictine monks, philosophers. He basically built a little city or actually a Renaissance city, called Solomeo, around the headquarters of the company. The city is based on the idea of Renaissance city. It's basically an attempt to connect the workers of his company to a balanced and harmonic lifestyle. So, he actually offers them a bonus for theater and culture. They are required to attend a theater play every month, and to spend a certain number of hours in the library. They are given a two-hour lunch break — that's not bad — to connect their work to a life that is meaningful, and not deprived work of its breadth.
The third example is Olivetti. It's probably the most famous. Olivetti was the leading brand in typewriters. Actually, Olivetti was the company that produced the first computer ever, the Elea, in 1959. It's based in Ivrea, near Xenia and Piedmont. Ivrea was conceived as a comunità, a community. The idea of Adriano Olivetti, who was also the model of Steve Jobs, was to create a working site where architects, designers, workers, philosophers, could interact together similar to the space of Cupertino, if you will. This also became a political project that didn't go very much far because Olivetti died very young. But this was the idea of connecting work to society as a harmonic balance of parts and contributions.
I think these are good examples of how beauty connects to innovation, technological innovation. In a way, if you want to go back to the Renaissance, also, Leon Battista Alberti, who was the one who discovered perspective, was the one who really connected the understanding of geometry to the design of architectures. If you go to Florence, the facade of Santa Maria Novella — it's like a beautiful church near the train station — is actually based on geometric forms applied to space on how to use math as a geometrical form that inspires beauty and uplift our souls in a way in observing it. This can be good examples. There are many more.
Brandon: There's a lot of interesting insights there. Would you say that there are any unique or distinctive aesthetic principles that come out of the Italian context or that characterize, say, if we look at scientific or technological innovation in Italy today? Are there any particularly distinctive or common aesthetic principles that are particular to that context?
Luca: I will not call them principle but more of frames or frameworks. In the sense that we compare the Italian and American approach or frameworks to innovation, we might see certain differences. Well, we highlighted the difference between a technological approach and a humanistic approach, which might also be read as a difference between a short-term immediate solution approach versus a long run, a longer continuity approach.
Brandon: Yeah, I think Cuccinelli has got a 200- or 500-year vision or something like that.
Luca: Yeah, not a three-year range but a 300-year range. This translates, for example, in the personal management. Managers in the Anglo-Saxon world tend to move from one company to another, and execute what they are asked to do in the short run. Entrepreneurs, in the Italian context, are more like medieval captains in a way. They are the ones that are interested in running the — what in Italian is called impresa, which means both company and adventurous feet. That's quite a remarkable overlapping of terms.
If someone is running this impresa, these feet, has the interest to prolong this impresa over generations. So, this is where the family model comes from. We see it in a negative sense in the House of Gucci. But for example, in the case of Zegna, which arrived at the third generation, we see how instead this model generates continuity over time, and also loyalty over time. We see this also in Illycaffè, the third generation, in Lavazza as well. For example, the craziest example, in the company, Marinelli located in Molise, southern Italy, which is the longest running company in the world. It started in the Middle Ages, and produces bells. So, it's been going on for eight centuries. This is the idea of entrepreneurship as a long-run adventure. So, this might be one framewok — technology versus humanities, the idea of the short-term solution versus the long run horizon.
The last one is the opposition between the pioneering framework of the American West, if you say, the new frontier framework innovation as finding a new uncharted land or territory, which then translates into the conquest of the West, that conquest of space, the conquest of whatever else is more west than where we are.
The Italian model of innovation, which I equate to the model of the snail, which is to look backwards, to move forward. The idea of heritage or traditional is something that is given from the past and is not rejected to make room for something new, as in the dynamic of fashion or modernity. But it's actually rediscovered and used as a vital force to create new grounded solutions. Now, the pioneering model is actually a model that produces new ideas, but also produces a lot of ideas that fade pretty quickly.
If you think about science, what we call science is what is left of a number of scientific hypotheses, the vast majority that faded over time. In this sense, also products, what we see are classics. What we see is what is left of these pioneering attitudes that found something but also left a lot of other things along the way.
The Italian model, instead, is a model where the presence which is a special presence of the past in the urban geography of Italy, and the cultural imagination can be seen as a burden or can be seen as a resource. In this sense, design is born out of the reappropriation of something that is in the past and something that grounds innovation — reproduces something new but not flat, new with depth. This is quite an interesting paradox. Because we tend to think of originality only in the sense of novelty. But how is it possible to create something truly original and thoroughly substantive at the same time? That's the challenge. In the sense, the Italian and American models put together can generate very, very interesting.
Brandon: This is a fascinating point here. I've certainly seen this in a lot of Italian firms. I've been working with a team of sociologists at the Università Cattolica in Milan. They're looking at organizations that are exemplars of social generativity. They do find that there's a certain model of innovation that is grounded in tradition, and also identity. This idea of, in this region, this is what we have been producing for centuries. So, there's a certain rootedness, a certain tradition, which doesn't really have to enslave you. You can certainly deviate. But there's also that sense of fidelity to something that's been given. I suppose it provides a more stable foundation from which to innovate, perhaps.
One of the things I want to ask you about is whether there's a dark side to beauty. I'll give you an example. In some of the work, some of the debates that are going on inside theoretical physics — actually, around CERN and particle physics and so forth — there's an argument that, on the one hand, beautiful mathematics can be a guide to truth. It's what leads people to develop ideas for what to investigate, what to invest their money in investigating, what kinds of hypotheses to pursue. So, you go for the ones that are most mathematically elegant and beautiful, trusting that the beauty will lead you to truth.
However, in the last 50 or 60 years, that approach somehow hasn't been working. People have argued that we're wasting our time and we're wasting our money pursuing beauty, where it's no longer going to be fruitful. Essentially, the argument is, it's become a source of cognitive bias. So, I'm curious to know what you think about beauty or aesthetic principles as — in spite of whatever advantages they have, could they also be perhaps a blind spot? Could they also close us off to innovation or to directions that we might otherwise take?
Luca: Well, thank you. This is really an interesting space. I would say a couple of things, one related to the opposition that took place between the 16th and 17th century, between two aesthetic systems — one, the Renaissance system, and the other one, the Baroque system. The second observation relates to the importance of fiction for scientific research and for technological innovation.
The first thing, the Renaissance, as you know, is a harmonic system that works well, looks nice, but imposes a very rigid frame on other possibilities, simply. In this sense, the harmonious beauty promoted by the Renaissance, later by Neoclassicism, is more of an ideological beauty. I tend to see the Vitruvian Man of Leonardo as an impossible man — the man inscribed in the circle and in the square — or rather as a forced man, someone who is forced to enter or to fit within those parameters that we impose.
Well, the Vitruvian Man does not exist. I have never seen someone who has the exact proportions of the Vitruvian Man. Our body is different. In this sense, what the Baroque promotes is more of an irrational side, the emphasis on the darker side, on something we cannot really control, on impulses in the forces and dynamism that might be also to entropy. So, there is a value in the beauty of entropy for scientific research. The study of complexity, not as a study of systems that are really pre-formatted, but the study of complexity and something that appears perhaps randomly. perhaps through the emergence of an irrational force.
Now, Nietzsche observed the contrasts between the Renaissance and the Baroque through the contrasts of the upper Linnaean and the Unisean spirit. Actually, Nietzsche was the first one who rediscovered the Baroque as a valuable vital force and not as a grotesque, bizarre, negative art as it was portrayed in the 18th century. In this sense, when we talked about beauty, we need to figure out what kind of beauty we're talking about or models of beauty, the model of the harmonious classicism or the model of beauty as a punch in the face that sparks reflection.
In this sense, we all have movies that we like. This binary opposition translates into those who like movies that are well-framed — beginning, development, end, maybe with a cheesy end — or movies that really punch in the guts that open up a space of reflection. That space of reflection might generate more knowledge than the cheesy sensation or feelings that we might have in a more fully formed movie.
Now, this leads me to the second consideration on fiction. Because fiction is really a space of test. It's a virtual space where we test ideas, where we see of moral categories or maybe certain ideas in science. Think of science fiction. Can it work or not? In a way, in entrepreneurial terms, this is the forerunner or what we call now virtual reality. Fiction is based upon the premise. Well, let's pretend. This opens a bubble in our world, which is something that does not exist. Theoretically, a fiction is a lie. But through this bubble that does not exist, we might understand if certain categories work beforehand, before making a heavy investment on them — this can be virtual reality proposition — but also to understand and see things that might be more visible there than in the direct vision of reality.
In this sense, fiction as a cognitive space that allows us to postulate ideas, to imagine new horizons. We tend to think of imagination as something that is fake or false. But actually, imagination is the space where we allow ourselves to exit our pre-formatted knowledge, and now brainstorm other possible ideas. In this sense, imagination and fiction as testing grounds but also places where you reframe problems beyond the somewhat superficial logic of the immediate solution. Because sometimes, the immediate solution is not what we're looking for. It's actually the reframing of the problem that allows us to see actually the bigger solution, what we are really interested in.
In this sense, if I may add a conversation I had with an Italian designer, this might be an interesting example. I recently interviewed Gianfranco Zaccai, who is the designer of the Reebok Pump and, above all, of the Procter and Gamble Swiffer. In talking to him, we actually explored this question. How do you innovate in the field of the industry? In this sense, how do you innovate the idea of mopping a floor? There were hypotheses of chemists that say we need better detergents. There were hypotheses of people who said based on experience, on their frame, we need better mops.
What he did was basically to reframe the problem. So, he started living with people and observed how they interacted with the issue, mopping the floor. He realized that for many of them, cleaning the mop required more time than cleaning the floor. Second, after cleaning the floor with water, there was a feeling left on the floor of water and either gas or human cells. So, what he did was to propose this apparently crazy idea of using electrostatic energy to capture dust. So, the idea was to basically mop floors without water.
In this sense, the idea of imagination, also experiential imagination or fiction, is something that allows us to not find an easy solution, which is basically a variation to what we already know that doesn't lead fire. But really, to reframe the problem to open a new paradigm. In this sense, to go back to the Baroque, the Baroque might open this paradigm or open this disposition of more than the harmonic disposition or harmonic beauty that we associate to Renaissance figures.
Brandon: That's really fascinating. Also, I think that goes the problem that a lot of people have with, say, science where they don't see it as a space of creativity. A lot of young people don't choose to go into math and science because they see it as more of a rigid indoctrination into formulas that one has to regurgitate on tests and so forth. So, it's really unfortunate. I think cultivating that sense of creativity and innovation, problem solving, redesigning your approach to your question in the first place seems to be really a critical component of the kind of education that might be needed to draw new people into the sciences and for the revitalization of science.
Do you see any other interesting aspects of the relevance of beauty for science and technology and, say, for the future of either trust in science or the development of the sciences?
Luca: Well, in a way, this relates to also technology and entrepreneurship. If I think about science, or rather engineering, the first example that comes to mind is Corradino D'Ascanio, who is the engineer who designed the Vespa scooter. He is actually the engineer who designed the first helicopter.
The idea of this understanding of beauty as a holistic space, where planes are connected, refers to him. Because basically, in his work, in designing helicopters, the principle was that of building bodies for flying objects that were both light and sturdy. You can't have a heavy material for flying. This principle was the principle that was behind the construction of the scooter, or rather the reconfiguration of the scooter in post-war World War II Italy. But the scooter was actually invented by Americans. It was a vehicle used by American parachuters that were throwing pretty much behind the enemy line in Italy, and used these two-wheel vehicle that had a lot of agility and mobility to go around the enemy lines.
What D'Ascanio saw was the combination of this vehicle with a new urban setting that was developing after the war, where roads were all bombed and the only way to go around with was mobility. Also, mobility is great in Italian cities. They're very narrow. In this sense, he applied the concept of the light and sturdy body of the airplanes, or the helicopter, to the construction of this vehicle. That's how the Vespa came about. This, to me, is an example of a scientific mind — the idea of connecting dots, observing reality, and finding applications of an idea or a theory that might go beyond the immediate outcome and create other. In this sense, this open mind or open mindset. The whole idea of science as a field that is somewhat objective or, say, separated by reality, if I may, oppose to it an idea of science as instead the place where we enter in a dynamic relationship with reality where dots are connected.
I would like to also add the case of Adriano Ducati who was the first one, who in the 1920s, developed a part in radios that allowed him to be the first one to start the radio communication from Italy to the United States. He did it in Bologna, which was the city of Marconi. That was the culture upon which he built this whole understanding of radios.
Basically, Ducati, in the 1920s and '30s in Italy, was the leading company in the production of radios, cameras, video projectors, and also razors. What is interesting is that Ducati was bombed in 1944 by the Americans. Nothing was left of this. So, what Ducati did was to basically accept this not as the failure of his own enterprise, but really as a possibility to develop something else. Going back to the idea of the roads that were bombed, he basically developed a little clip-on engine to attach to bicycles — light transportations. That had a lot of success. That's how he basically started the motorcycling part of the company. Now, nobody knows that Ducati was a radio company. Everybody knows that Ducati is the most incredible motorcycle company in Italy. It's kind of the Ferrari of motorcycling.
I'm saying this because the adventure of a scientist is the same adventure of an entrepreneur and the same adventure of a storyteller, which means you start a story, you start your research. You start a product, but you don't really know where the story will lead you. That's the fascinating part of a scientific research. Because you start with a hypothesis. You work on it, and then you realize that, at a certain point, there's a twist in the plot. This twist generates maybe something else or maybe the real thing that you were looking for.
In this sense, that's also how Einstein developed his Relativity Theory. He developed it while he was working in Bern at a regular job, if you want. So, the scientific mind is an entrepreneurial mind or a storytelling mind that accepts change, that accepts the twists of a plot, that accepts that something new might come and might develop.
Last example is an automobile producer, Bugatti. Everybody knows Bugatti. It's the American pronunciation. Actually, Bugatti was actually the son of Carlo Bugatti, who was a furniture designer. He was actually one of the most important furniture designers in Europe. Some of his works are in the top museums of the world. In Italian, the word furniture is mobile. The word for automobile is auto mobile. The idea of turning in automobile into a mobile beauty. The idea of challenging a somewhat immobile idea of beauty, and taking beauty instead as a dynamic force that accompanies the research, that accompanies the journey of an entrepreneur, of the journey of a storyteller. Because the beauty of the journey and the beauty of scientific research is actually the road we walk, to find out a new thing, a new idea, a new story. Without that road, every achievement will be bereft of satisfaction or will be deprived of its horizon of beauty.
In this sense, I think of scientific research as something that builds our own humanity and feeds are own thirst for something that is truly substantive, that is grounded. It is also new, because we want to see something new. We constantly pursue novelty. But we also want this novelty not to be ephemeral, but really to be lasting over time, too.
The beautiful thing of entrepreneurship, of scientific research, of academic research, is actually the tension to bear fruits. In other words, the word profit, which in Latin means benefit. It indicates not just the monetary profit, but the real profit of a work which is the joy, the satisfaction, the social value, the richness that comes from our own enterprise. In this sense, I'm indebted to someone like Galileo. I'm indebted to someone like Ducati. Because they enriched my life. The profit of their work was more in their own self-building and in the creation of goods for everybody.
Sorry, I made a long answer. It's just to reframe scientific research from this narrow scope to become this broader connection to our own human story and our own human journey. That is where science becomes truly, truly, truly interesting.
Well, the last example that came to my mind now is actually Cattelli, Pietro Catelli, who was an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical sector. He produced a syringe. He produced the most famous syringe in Italy. At a certain point, he realized that he needed to improve the medical service, especially to children, by creating an environment or a constellation of services for children. That's how he created Chicco, which American calls "chee-co". It's the largest childcare brand. The idea of connecting science to the overall understanding of the child, not as a bundle of scientific needs, but also as a bundle of psychological needs, and also as a protagonist of a life that will be developing really remarkable ways that we don't know yet.
Brandon: This is super fascinating. I suppose one of the things that might be helpful to conclude with this is perhaps some advice on what we can do in our own journeys, whatever those might be, to stay open to this adventure, where you may not know essentially where you're going to be led? You might have to contend with failure, just as Ducati did and others, where you come across unexpected obstacles. Perhaps you need intellectual humility as well to be open to surprise, that perhaps things won't really work out the way you expect them to or might take you to a totally different direction. What does it take to cultivate that sense of intellectual humility or openness to adventure and not not to give up in the face of failures?
Luca: Well, thank you. This also leads me to trace another parallel between American culture and Italian approach, which relates to the aspect of competition. American culture is a competition-driven culture or society, which tends to see failures or losses as the collapse of every attempt or endeavor. This is a moralistic approach to research because there is no research that does not entail failures. Actually, failures are the only condition to learn and to bring new ideas forth. Not protect ourselves in a safe space where we say we innovate, but we're actually doing the same thing with a slight variation to be on the safe side.
The opposite of competition in the Italian milieu that I would like to point is the creative notion of limit. The idea of limit not as an obstacle but rather as a resource, as a creative resource. In the sense, a culture that is well-fed, like the American cultures, as apparently endless resources, things of limit, a little bit less than a culture like Italy that has constraint at its center. Everything is difficult — both geographical constraint, social constraint. Not like this general, endless availability of resources.
Now, in this sense, limit is not an obstacle, but is only the condition that forces us to think on how to use well what we have. You think about cooking. Well, you can have the nice part, the nice chunk of the key ingredient of a recipe, or forget about what is leftover, or you can start from the leftover and use the leftover creatively. This is how Italian cuisine actually developed. It's a cuisine that interpreted the leftover in a creative sense.
Limit was also the creative force behind the emergence of Ferrero, Nutella, that was born because in the post war years in Northern Italy in Piedmont, Michele Ferrero faced a scarcity of cocoa. That was not available during that time. The only ingredient that was available in his region was actually hazelnuts. So, what he did was, he saw the limit as a creative input to develop the hazelnut chocolate spread that turned into the Nutella.
The last limit that we're not used to talk about is actually death. American culture is very afraid of death. In the Franciscan tradition, death is always addressed as 'Sister Death.' In observing this, I want to mention something that comes from my classical studies or from the Aeneid of Virgil. Virgil, the ancient poet, actually described the gods of the Roman mythology as very sad gods. Because he did not envy their endless, meaningless life. He said, actually, death is what allows us to live our life not wasting it. Because if we were to live forever, we would waste our time. This is something that unfortunately happens with a lot of people in the younger generations that don't have the sense of the limit of their time.
The limit of death is actually what stirs in us the need to formulate new solutions or to leave a sign in the world around us and, actually, to make something of our life, to make it a real masterpiece. The limit paradoxically stirs the creative energy to make something interesting of our lives, to make our life the real enterprise, the real jewel.
In this sense, the creative notion of limit is a good antidote to the obsessiveness of competition. Which is great, but the word competition actually means competere, 'to search together.' We rarely have this idea of competition as a common search. But we normally abide by I win, you lose.
Brandon: Well, that's really a brilliant note to end on. Thank you so much, Luca. It's been really enriching and super fascinating. Where can our viewers and listeners find your work? Where would you direct them?
Luca: Well, definitely, on my YouTube channel, Italian Innovators. You can find more information at www.italianinnovators.com — the website — where you can also find out about my research, my profile, my story. I'm always posting every day on LinkedIn, on my personal profile, and on Instagram @ItalianInnovators.
If you're also interested in my scholarship, you can find my books on Amazon. I'm always interested in hearing comments from listeners. I normally get a lot of ideas and new challenges also from them. So, you're always welcome to reach out.
Brandon: Brilliant. Well, thank you again, Luca.
Luca: Thank you. Thank you very much for the time and conversation.
If there's anything you found especially interesting or striking about this interview, do let me know. I'd also love any suggestions about future posts and questions/topics to explore.
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