Ingenuity refers to the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges. The process of figuring out how to cross a mountain stream using a fallen log, build an airplane from a sheet of paper, or start a new company in a foreign culture all involve the exercising of ingenuity. Human ingenuity has led to technological developments through applied science, but can also be seen in the development of new social organizations, institutions and relationships. Ingenuity involves the most complex human thought processes, bringing together our thinking and acting both individually and collectively to take advantage of opportunities or to overcome problems.

One example of how ingenuity is used conceptually can be found in the analysis of Thomas Homer-Dixon
Thomas Homer-Dixon
Thomas Homer-Dixon holds the Centre for International Governance Innovation Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, and is a Professor in the Centre for Environment and Business in the Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo...

, building on that of Paul Romer
Paul Romer
Paul Michael Romer is an American economist, entrepreneur, and activist. He is currently the Henry Kaufman Visiting Professor at New York University Stern School of Business and will be joining NYU as a full time professor beginning in 2011...

, to refer to what is usually called instructional capital
Instructional capital
Instructional capital is a term used in educational administration after the 1960s, to reflect capital resulting from investment in producing learning materials....

. In the case of Homer-Dixon, his use of the phrase 'ingenuity gap' denotes the space between a challenge and a solution. His particular contribution is to explore the social dimensions of ingenuity. Typically we think of ingenuity being used to build faster computers or more advanced medical treatments. Homer-Dixon argues that as the complexity of the world increases, our ability to solve the problems we face is becoming critical.

These challenges will require more than improvements arising from physics, chemistry and biology. We will need to consider the highly complex interactions of individuals, institutions, cultures, and networks involving all of the human family around the globe. Organizing ourselves differently, communicating and making decisions in new ways, are examples of social ingenuity. If our ability to generate adequate solutions to these problems is inadequate, the ingenuity gap will lead to a wide range of social problems. The full exploration of these ideas in meeting social challenges is featured in The Ingenuity Gap, one of Thomas Homer-Dixon's earliest books.

In his latest book, The Up Side of Down, he argues that increasingly expensive oil, driven by scarcity, will lead to great social instability. Walking across an empty room requires very little ingenuity. If the room is full of snakes, hungry bears and land mines, the ingenuity requirement will have gone up considerably.
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