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No. 500:
Five-hundredth Episode

Today, some thoughts for Christmas Eve, 1990. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

I finish this 500th episode of The Engines of Our Ingenuityjust before Christmas Eve, 1990. It is a very special Christmas for me. By now, this program has changed my life in unexpected ways. On one level, it's taken me over. It pushes out an old life and replaces it with a new one.

But that's only part of the story. It is you who've wrought the largest changes. I've told 499 stories about human creativity. I've talked about how it feels to be the creative person we all want to become. You've responded by telling me that I must really be what I talk about. I get calls and letters from people who want me to do creative things, to hear their ideas, and to validate their creative nature.

Of course I'm very far from being the ideal I celebrate. But you keep saying to me, in odd ways, "Then become the ideal! Don't stand at the water's edge. Dive in!" You tell me it's not enough to talk about creative risk. You tell me I must take those risks with you.

My first reaction is defensive: "I've done this much. How much more do you want!" Then I see how that misses the point. No amount of creativity or courage could ever be enough, because the process doesn't end. Creative growth is a long, uphill road. There's always another hilltop ahead.

You, the inventive listener, make it clear you don't want to walk that hard road alone if you can help it. You tell me that you'll hear me if I'm on the road with you. I have to seek out the same growth and change that you do, all the time.

For example, when I've talked about minority inventors, you've asked, "Why are you doing this? What're your motives?" You've told me that I must be black -- that I must be female -- that I must share the problem. Only then will you be convinced. If I stand outside the people and the risks I talk about, my voice will give me away.

So I finish my 500th episode both changed and chastened by a public that will not be fooled. You've proved to be as realistic as you are demanding. You know human limitation. But you also know the human capacity for growth.

In the end, this program has told me what you are. It sets you up as an example to me. Your message comes home to me with powerful force this Christmas Eve. It is not I who call you to your creative rebirth this night. It is you who call me to mine. And I am in your debt for that.

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)