Exploration is an essential element of innovation. Trips into the world beyond the four walls of the office provide the Fahrenheit 212 team with unique perspectives, and the ability to look at a challenge with refreshed and inspired eyes. Innovator's Itinerary is a series of recommended destinations around the world for innovators everywhere. We hope that with these tips, you will go out and get inspired, too. This week, we present destinations from Cuba, the U.S., and Italy.
By Katie Burwick
In October, I traveled to Cuba with my boyfriend. We stopped in several locations across the island – Santa Clara (a quiet city in the center of the island), Havana (the bustling capital), and Trinidad (a beach and mountain town) – to get a feel for a few different settings. As expected, we spent most of the trip completely off the grid (as Internet access in Cuba is both expensive and difficult to find), away from the news, the U.S. election debates, Instagram, a Spanish-English dictionary, new podcasts, or recommendations on what to do when lost in Cuba. While we resisted this forced digital detox at first, we eventually found ourselves embracing the real conversation, moments of silence, and the genuine introspection it caused.
One topic we spent a lot of time talking and thinking about is Cuba's culinary scene. While the famous mojito (ice, white rum, club soda, lime juice, sugar, and fresh mint) did not disappoint, we struggled through every bland meal. It occurred to me that Cuba truly is an isolated island, with limited cultural influence from neighboring states. Additionally, Cubans have lived under a ration system for years, leaving little room for mistakes that could waste food. The combination of sparse outside inspiration with few opportunities to try new cooking techniques has stifled any major innovation in the kitchen.
The more we saw this dynamic in a few other areas of Cuban life, whether it be restrictions on travel, access to books or information, or the option to launch a new business, I found myself feeling overwhelmingly grateful for how life operates just 90 miles north in the U.S. I know it's a bit cliche, but seeing how life could be without these basic freedoms left me feeling grateful to live in a society that embraces those values. It made me appreciate the creativity, art, culture, inventions, technology, information, and exchange of ideas around me. In my view, these freedoms are essential to fostering innovation, and my trip to Cuba reminded me just how important that value is.
I very much recommend a trip to Cuba within the next few months – get there before it gets too hot again! It is a beautiful country that will give you a gift you often don't get – the chance to look inward and reflect.
I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Downtown Atlanta, which was the largest aquarium in the world until 2012, and is still the largest in the western hemisphere. The scale of the building itself is enough to create a feeling of immersion, but the exhibits are also engineered to transport visitors to an underwater world. In one gallery, a moving walkway leads you through a glass tunnel as whale sharks and manta rays glide overhead. In another, a small crawl space opens up into the center of the penguin display, where you can sit face to face with the birds.
The creatures on display were of course the most inspiring part of the experience, reflecting a range of colors, sounds and motion rarely seen on land. But my visit also proved to be an unexpected lesson in experience design. The aquarium’s galleries are organized by habitat, and each is designed to evoke a specific environment in addition to showcasing the wildlife found there. In the Ocean Voyager gallery, weak light filters down from overhead and massive schools of fish swim alongside you to create the feeling of walking along the ocean floor. The River Scout section features scaled-down displays at or below eye level, as though you are skimming along in a fishing boat.
Finally, I caught one of the dolphin trainers off-duty and quizzed her about her career path. She told me that human psychology is a popular college major among would-be dolphin trainers, citing similarities in the ways that both species express themselves and drawing connections I never would have thought to make. Late in the afternoon, I left the aquarium thinking differently about humans and our limited experience on land.
On a trip home to Prato, Italy, I visited Centro Pecci. It is the only public institution dedicated to contemporary art in Italy, and holds 12,125 square meters of exhibition space, 3 departments (visual arts, research, and special projects), and 1145 pieces of artwork from 190 Italian artists and 117 from foreign artists. They're currently hosting a fascinating exhibition: "The End of the World."
In the catalog’s preface we learn the driving idea behind the exhibition: “[…] It represents the attempt to give a name to a phenomenon: the feeling of suspended uncertainty, the impossibility to understand the world’s major changes, which led us to believe that the world as we know it is destined to end."
Throughout the exhibition, circular just like the Earth, one can go through installations that replicate ideas, feelings, stories, visions and situations that without attempting to provide an answer, offer interpretations that challenge our daily life status quo.
It is therefore only by exploring this exhibition as a sort of vivid image on the circularity of existence that it is possible to find our own answers to the role of history in our life, the role of nature, on what future is possible and what part we want to play in creating it.