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How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time

How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time

by Matt Ridley

1. Innovation Essentials: Innovation is Gradual

  • Innovation is nearly always a gradual thing. Eureka moments are rare and possibly non-existent. 
  • It is because of human nature and the intellectual property system that innovation is often described as heroic breakthroughs. It is all too easy and tempting for whoever makes a ...

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1.1 Innovation V/S Invention, And Serendipity

  • Innovation is the turning of an idea or invention into a workable, affordable device that actually delivers benefits to people.
  • Innovation is often serendipitous: Serendipity is an accidental discovery that is beneficial in some way. It is a well-kn...

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1.2 Innovation Relies On Recombination, Chance And Collaboration

  • Every idea is a combination of other ideas. Innovation happens when ideas have sex. It occurs where people meet and exchange goods, services and thoughts. The inventors of motor cars did not have to invent wheels or steel. 
  • Most inventors find that they need to keep ...

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  • Amara's law states that people tend to overestimate the impact of new technology in the short run and underestimate it in the long run. Gene editing, GPS and AI are some examples where Amara's hype cycle is observed. It could also be playing a role in the story of crypto.

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1.4 Innovation is Inevitable

  • The invention of the light bulb was independently achieved by 21 people. There may be conscious competition between these but it was impossible for light bulbs not to be invented in the 1870s. 2 paradoxes arise:
  1. The individual seems dispensable. If ...

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thomas jefferson

Liberty is the parent of science and of virtue, and a nation will be great in both in proportion as it is free.

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2. Economics of Innovation: Innovation Is A Bottum-Up Phenomenon

It is believed that the main source of innovation has been the government support of research, and that government should therefore adopt an industrial policy of directed innovation. This is a myth.

While it is not impossible that governments can aim for, create and perfect an innovation, ...

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2.1 Innovation And Science

  • There is a widely held belief that science leads to technology, which leads to innovation. While this can happen sometimes, it is just as often the case that invention is the parent of science: techniques and processes that work are developed, but the understanding of them comes late...

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2.2 Big Companies Are Bad At Innovation

  • Big companies are bad at innovating because they are too bureaucratic, have too big a vested interest in the status quo and stop paying attention to the interests, actual and potential, of their customers.
  • Thus for innovation to flourish it is vital to have an econo...

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john steinbeck

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and a learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.

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3. Resistance To Innovation: Intellectual Property

  • The justification for intellectual property- patents and copyright is that it is necessary to encourage investment and innovation. The trouble is, the evidence clearly shows that while intellectual property helps a little, it also hinders and the net effect is to discourage innovatio...

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WILLIAM PETTY

When a new invention is first propounded in the beginning every man objects and the poor inventor runs the gauntloop of all petulant wits.

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4. How Innovation Works

  • The main ingredient that leads to innovation is freedom. Freedom to exchange, experiment, imagine, invest and fail. Freedom for the consumers to reward the innovations they like. Not freedom in the lawless sense, just the general idea that if something is not specifically pr...

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4.1 An Innovation Famine

  • The ability of Western economies to generate innovation has become weaker. Incomes appear to be stagnating and opportunities for social mobility drying up. The cause is not too much innovation, but too little. The West may still do new things in science and arts but is slowi...

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peter theil

We wanted flying cars; instead we got 140 characters.

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