Today, we invent a new word. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
Since I started this series,
people have been showing me what they themselves
have created. Sometimes they want publicity for an
idea. More often it's a straightforward wish to
share what they've seen. Invention is
self-expression. Maybe I should be able to
understand what they've done.
Last week a friend -- a linguist by training --
stopped me. "John, let me show you something." It
was a circular slide rule. "I made this twenty
years ago," he said. Of course, that was just
before we all had pocket calculators.
He'd solved a grocery store pricing problem.
Suppose a nine-ounce bottle of hair shampoo costs
$1.70, and a thirteen-ounce bottle costs $2.85.
Which is the better buy?
With his slide rule, you can calculate the first
unit price, 19 cents an ounce, and then place a
marker. When you calculate the second unit price of
22 cents, the device compares the two numbers. You
can see which is cheaper. He'd created a slide rule
with one memory unit.
The motive wasn't profit or a patent. Once he'd
worked it out, he was done. It was creative fun. It
was also very clever.
So invention goes on all around us -- far more than
people freely admit. We talk too much about the
great inventors. Watt, Edison, and Bell invented
much, and they invented well. But it took far more
than they gave us to shape our world.
Creativity -- your creativity -- is omnipresent.
It's the structural glue that makes the world run.
I take stock here on campus. Colleagues invent new
teaching ideas. Librarians invent new search
engines. Every experimental researcher invents
equipment all the time. Our students invent
machines in their design classes. Our writers
Invention isn't reserved for a unique breed of
people at all. Rather, it's what we must all manage
to do -- every day -- if we mean to be fully
functional citizens. Invention is there every time
you look closely at the person next to you.
That slide rule wasn't wonderful for its uniqueness
but rather for symbolizing what we're all capable
of. If my linguist friend can invent a slide rule,
I can invent a word. I'll invent the word
"panvention" -- a noun made by combining the Greek
term pan, which means all of us, with
the familiar word invention.
Panvention is the ever-present process of invention
as it occurs in all walks of life and is practiced
by all people. Panvention is essential to every
level of human improvement. You've done far more
panvention than you remember. And I'm here today
just to remind you -- of all you've done.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds