The products of innovation are all around us, from light bulbs and nuclear energy to antibiotics, artificial intelligence and even wheelie suitcases.
In the 1950s, the economist Robert Solow calculated that 87% of economic growth came not from applying more capital or more labour, but from innovation making people more productive. It’s probably even higher today – new materials, new machines and new ideas to cut costs and enable people to spend less time fulfilling more of their needs: that’s what growth means. But innovation is still a remarkably mysterious process. It’s more than just the invention of a new gadget: it requires lots of hard work making something affordable and useful. Innovation is an evolutionary activity that happens in the cloud of shared experiences; it relies on recombination or exchange; it is incremental; it feeds upon itself. And innovation is the great equaliser: today some of the poorest African communities have mobile phones that work as well as Tim Cook’s. Innovation is why the number of people living in extreme poverty is declining rapidly – and it is the reason the number will continue to decline.
From the bestselling author of The Rational Optimist, How Innovation Works draws on evolutionary biology and archeology as well as technology, politics and economics, telling the real stories behind the great leaps forward that have defined modern society. Looking at key developments from harnessing steam power to nuclear fusion, genetic modification and now the impact of social media on polarisation, How Innovation Works explores significant the breakthroughs in science, technology and economics that we all benefit from today – and considers where they might originate in future.