Professor Piero Formica
Winner of the Innovation Luminary Award 2017
Founder of the International Entrepreneurship Academy Network
Senior Research Fellow at the Innovation Value Institute, Maynooth University, Ireland
Professor and Mentor, Contamination Lab at the University of Padua
Master “Knowledge Innovation Entrepeneurship”, Esam Business School, Paris


By acquiring knowledge and making it functional and, therefore, applicable, man has forged increasingly powerful means of production. Making use of them, Homo Faber felt himself master of the world and lord of nature. With the appearance and development of communication networks, Homo communicator thought that by operating in cyberspace for the unification between the forces of atoms (machines), and the forces of bits (information), it was feasible to accelerate the process of submission of nature to human will. In the light of climate change and epidemic and pandemic events, nature appears endowed with its own subjectivity and intelligence, as the poet Titus Lucretius Caro (94BC-50 or 55BC) maintained. It is not an object to be conquered and dominated. With the message ‘nothing can be as it was before’, COVID-19 showed humanity in a state of hominescence, as the philosopher Michel Serres (1930-2019) would say. We are all adolescents and, therefore, in a continuous change that occurs on the threshold of something unpredictable (Serres, 2001; Bellusci, 2016).

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is rough.

Having as a guide the philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592; 1994), we will learn that it may happen to have to say
Ducimur ut nervis alienis mobile lignum
[<<We are guided like the wooden puppet, moved
by the muscles of others>>
– Horace, Satyrae, II, VIIII], the muscles of unknown viruses.

Sheltered from the ailment, in a backroom of our own, we will face a unique challenge:

In solis sis tibi turba locis
[<<In solitude, be company for thyself>>, Tibullus, Elegiae, IV, VIII, 12].

Montaigne writes, (1993): <<We have a mind pliable in itself, that will be company; that has wherewithal to attack and to defend, to receive and to give: let us not then fear in this solitude to languish under an uncomfortable vacuity>>.

Called to plan tomorrow, to the obsession of wanting to be always right we prefer modesty that leads to accepting reversals of course, because

Malum consilium est, quod mutari non potest
[<<It is evil counsel that will admit no change>>
– Publilius Syrus, quoted by Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, XVII, 14].

Otherwise, we should agree with another philosopher, Giovanni Papini (1881-1956; 1906), when he says: <<Is a project not the tea, the coffee, the opium, the hashish of life? Is it not the substitute, the surrogate, the down-payment of reality?>>.

Should tomorrow be designed with nature as a partner, not as an object, then in the design discourse we will find the imagination of artists and the intellect of scientists converse together. Artists do not erase the past; they look to their predecessors. The poet, writer and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was one of the masters from whom artists learned how to participate in the vital impulse of nature, art acting in the guise of nature. Conversely, scientific minds prone to nature ought to get rid of attractive forces exerted by a past when the environment was configured as an asset to be exploited. Transmitting the knowledge of the tradition that brings with it that approach to nature is a piece of excessively heavy and dangerous baggage of those whom the scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) named ‘doctors of memory’. The intellect cannot travel to the future with its shoulders turned backwards and loaded with that weight. With such behaviour, it takes so long to lose sight of the objective of advancing knowledge by intervening on the uneven balance of power between material progress and nature. Rebalancing the relationship in support of the latter is a task for designers at the crossroads of art and science. Unlike those ‘doctors’, they are ‘creative ignoramuses’ (Formica, 2014) who, as the philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650) would say, can judge <<with much greater solidity and clarity>>.


The year 2020 will be remembered for human health returned as the main character in the theatre where the daily experience of climate change, bioterrorism, cyberattacks and misuse of artificial intelligence, to name but a few realistic threats, goes on stage.

In early 2020, humanity has lost its way. Under the attack of the invisible killer Covid-19, the trailbrazers who create new paths along which our material life travels have presented us with four scenarios. The first scenario, V-shaped, shows the economy heading back to the growth path before the virus attack and then, perhaps, taking another path that can be travelled at an even faster pace. In the U-shaped scenario, the previous speed is resumed but the gap to be filled remains wide. This means a once for all economic loss. In the L-shaped scenario, stagnation follows to a sharp downturn of productive activity. Reported by the economist Nouriel Roubini (2020), the worst of all is the fourth scenario, ‘I’-shaped, a vertical line outlining the real economy and financial markets in a free-fall.

On 11 March 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization stated, <<We have assessed that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic>>. From that day on, anyone looking at the scene with health as the main protagonist sees three supporting players in action. Two are designers: visionary one and pragmatic the other. The third is an economic forecaster. Their actions to confront the virus reveal three different social identities that denote their respective communities. Leaving the past behind, the two designers look forward, downstream, to prepare for the future. Conversely, the forecaster’s commitment is entirely focused on upstream events and then assumes how the present flows into the future.

The visionary designer flirts with the idea of mastering the first scenario. She directs the compass towards medical research to yield results so innovative and with an unprecedented speed that lives can be saved and, at the same time, prevent a devastating economic misery, thus propelling the ‘V’ recovery of the economy. This is the direction taken by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation together with Wellcome and Mastercard who announced on 10 March 2020 an initiative to accelerate the development and widespread access to treatment. <<COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator – reads the press release – will coordinate R&D efforts and remove barriers to drug development and scale-up to address the epidemic>>.

The pragmatic designer would also like to encourage a ‘V’ recovery, acting as an incremental innovator that enhances innovation by improving it and extending its scope. She broadens the view by turning her attention to all of us who can pioneer new ways of exploiting innovation. Starting with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) to create ‘healthy homes for healthy people’, since 2018 the Californian entrepreneur Sheridan Tatsuno has been working to extend energy, temperature, and traffic monitoring programmes in cities to healthcare. In collaboration with the medical world, Tatsuno designs to apply the VR models, developed by his company One Reality to protect the environment and combat climate change, to the monitoring of patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), the third leading cause of death in the United States. With RV devices, diagnoses could be made faster and at a lower cost.

The forecasting expert causes undesirable or unintended effects in the economic environment. She does not feel called upon to remedy the shortcomings of the past, which suggests to her resisting on revolutionary ideas and nurturing many doubts on incremental ones. The former would require a waste of resources over indefinitely long periods. The latter take time to materialise. Better, then, to rely on mature ideas and accelerate their spread. Going backwards, eg, to the nineteenth century, the forecaster gives ear to the preferential lane granted to the anaesthetic that solves the immediate problem of pain compared to the antiseptic to protect oneself from the invisible killer of the infection that acts with delay. The lesson learnt is the appropriateness of embracing what perceived with immediacy.

The context of thought changes passing from visionaries to pragmatists and forecasters. At one extreme, there are the visionaries who have the vision within themselves, carrying it with them by nature. As Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) would say, they seize on the pleasure principle which unleashes their imaginative energy and makes them find the unpredictable. The Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989; 1975) refers us back to the paradigmatic figures of Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), the visionary architect of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, and the theoretical physicist Ettore Majorana (1906 and missed in 1938) whose studies on neutrino opened new frontiers in physics. At the other extreme, we find the forecasters who, having discarded the pleasure principle, are all leaning towards the reality principle. They are conditioned by the state of experiential knowledge and habits of thoughts prevailing in their communities. Between the two, the pragmatic designer disciplines the impulse between pleasure and reality by descending into the arena of research and innovation with great willpower that makes up for the absence of natural talent.

Did human health come into the picture because it was suddenly pushed there by COVID-19? Or should we have been prepared for the event by listening to the alarm raised by previous epidemic events? In one case and another, naked on stage, health created considerable unease among the realists. With huge repercussions for humanity, the imbalance between the principle of pleasure and the principle of reality occurred. The excessive weight of the latter has prevented to give free rein to the joy of imagining, enticer of visionary discoveries.

Narrative Medicine

The most frequent answers to the growing demand for health caring lie in technology. It is up to innovation policies to ensure that the technology readiness does not drive the patient away from the doctor. Personal attention, the encounter between healthcare professionals and patients, is a resource that one would not want to be rare in technological medicine.

From this perspective, one can infer the demanding and decisive role that universities should play in forging links between literature and the arts, on the one hand, and medicine on the other. The infrastructure to be built is a transdisciplinary habitat designed for narrative medicine. Here we are met by Rita Charon, internist and Henry James scholar at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. Charon has been working on this issue for more than two decades and has proven which kind of listening doctors can give patients by drawing from literature and the arts and then writing, drawing and sharing their stories of clinical encounters.
By crossing the bridge linking the humanities and art disciplines, on one side, and medicine, on the other, there would be growing awareness among young people of new-style health careers. Medical issues will be intertwining with the sensitivities that arise from literary culture and artistic creativity for a better understanding of the socio-economic, cultural, political and ethical implications of medicine.


de Montaigne, M. (1993) The Complete Essays, London: Penguin Classics.
Formica, P. (2014) The Role of Creative Ignorance: Portraits of Path Finders and Path Creators: London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Papini. G. (1906) Il Tragico quotidiano, Firenze: Lumachi.
Roubini, N. (2020) “A Greater Depression?”, Project Syndicate, March 24.
Sciascia, L. (1975) La scomparsa di Majorana, Torino: Einaudi.
Serres, M. (2001) Hominescence, Paris: Le Pommier.




Published by the Triple Helix Association  –  ISSN 2281-4515


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