Ingenuity is the quality of being clever, original, and inventive, often in the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges.
Ingenuity (Ingenium) is the root Latin word for engineering. For example, the process of figuring out how to cross a mountain stream using a fallen log, building an airplane model from a sheet of paper, or starting a new company in a foreign culture all involve the exercising of ingenuity. Human ingenuity has led to various technological developments through applied science, and can also be seen in the development of new social organizations, institutions, and relationships. Ingenuity involves the most complex human thought processes, bringing together our thinking and acting both individually and collectively to take advantage of opportunities and/or overcome problems.
One example of how ingenuity is used conceptually can be found in the analysis of Thomas Homer-Dixon, building on that of Paul Romer, to refer to what is usually called instructional capital. In this case, Homer-Dixon used the phrase 'ingenuity gap' denotes the space between a challenge and its solution. His particular contribution is to explore the social dimensions of ingenuity. Typically we think of ingenuity being used to build faster computers or more advanced medical treatments.
Homer-Dixon argues that as the complexity of the world increases, our ability to solve the problems we face is becoming critical. Human ingenuity is also included in many school systems, with most teachers encouraging students to be educated in human ingenuity.
These challenges require more than improvements arising from physics, chemistry and biology, as one will need to consider the highly complex interactions of individuals, institutions, cultures, and networks involving all of the human family around the globe. Organizing ourselves differently, communicating and making decisions in new ways, are examples of social ingenuity. If one's ability to generate adequate solutions to these problems is inadequate, the ingenuity gap will lead to a wide range of social problems. The full exploration of these ideas in meeting social challenges is featured in The Ingenuity Gap, one of Thomas Homer-Dixon's earliest books.
In another of Homer-Dixon's books, The Up Side of Down, he argues that increasingly expensive oil, driven by scarcity, will lead to great social instability. Walking across an empty room requires very little ingenuity. If the room is full of snakes, hungry bears, and land mines, the ingenuity requirement will have gone up considerably.
Ingenuity is often inherent in creative individuals, and thus is considered hard to separate from individual capital.
It is not clear though if Dixon or Romer considered it impossible to do so, or if they were simply not familiar with the prior analysis of "applied ideas", "intellectual capital", "talent", or "innovation" where instructional and individual contributions have been carefully separated, by economic theorists.