The Olinguito and Innovation

Today the Foossa team has been obsessing over the supposed "discovery" of the olinguito, a "new" species of charismatic macrofauna that lives in the forests of Ecuador and Columbia. The olinguito certainly has a cute, ready-for-viral-social-media-sharing face, but there is more to this post than simply sharing our furry friend's adorable mug shot. 

I put "discovery" and "new" species in quotes because the olinguito isn't really new at all. It's just new to Western science and new to us in the animal-adoring interwebs. In fact, the olinguito has been hiding in plain site for decades. The BBC reports

[s]cientists now believe an olinguito was exhibited in several zoos in the US between 1967 and 1976. Its keepers mistook it for an olinga - a close relative - and could not understand why it would not breed. It was sent to a number of different zoos but died without being properly identified.

So what does the olinguito have to do with innovation? 

Oliguitos, like some innovations, have been hiding in plain sight, waiting to be noticed, acknowledged, and valued. There is a chance that the answers to big problems are already out there, somewhere, waiting to be noticed: the cure for cancer, the way to halt climate change, a more just economic system. But we just simply overlooked them, and they have been lost in the forest of the mundane everyday. 

The takeaway? Innovation isn't just about new ideas or new gadgets, but it is also looking at the things that we already have carefully and in a new light. Who knows what's out there? 

A musical outro  

This talk of olinguitos and innovations hiding in plain site reminds me of a couple songs that deal with that theme.

1. Björk, "All the Modern Things" 

all the modern things
like cars and such
have always existed
they've just been waiting in a mountain
for the right moment


2. Caetano Veloso, "Um Índio" (An Indian - lyrics translated from Portuguese)

An Indian preserved in full physical form
In all solid, all gas, and all liquid form
In atoms, words, soul, color, in gesture and smell
In shadow, in light, in magnificent sound
At a point equidistant between the Atlantic and the Pacific
From the resplendent object the Indian will descend
And the things I know he will say and do
I don’t know how to describe explicitly
And what in this moment will be revealed to all humankind
Will surprise everyone, not for being exotic
But for the fact of having always been so obvious

Go out into the wild. Listen. Observe. Discover.