How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom by Matt Ridley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Innovation is necessary for living flourishing lives and innovation requires freedom to flourish. This is the overall theme of Ridley's latest book. Ridley goes through the history of many essential innovations in energy production, medicine, transportation, food, communication, and more. He distinguishes between innovation and invention: arguing that often the innovations are more important than the invention. The innovations are often what makes a barely workable prototype into a practical and effective tool for our lives. Another important aspect of innovation he explores through out the book is the idea that innovators are more often than not people outside of the status quo: they are not the respected scientists of the day, but tinkerers looking for a way to do something a little better, a littler quicker, and little more effectively. Often innovations predate the developed scientific understanding of the innovation itself and help lead the scientists and theoreticians towards that understanding. This is part of why innovation is so unpredictable: we are often not paying attention to the area from which the innovation will come.
One of central features of innovation, argues Ridley, is trial and error experimentation. The innovators need the freedom to think outside of the box, to try and to experiment. And to try again and again after they fail. This is why freedom is so important to innovation. Where freedom is curtailed, this experimentation is curtailed as well. If people are afraid to fail, then they won't innovate.
He discusses various kinds of impediments to this freedom to try: often from governments of course, but from other sources as well. In this vein he looks at intellectual property (copyrights and patents) as one such impediment. I am not convinced he makes the case here for their abolition, but I am persuaded that the ways in which we grant and deal with IP needs reform.
Overall, it's a fascinating look at the history of innovation and innovators.
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