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

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

Innovation is the main event of the modern age, the reason we experience both dramatic improvements in our living standards and unsettling changes in our society. Forget short-term symptoms like Donald Trump and Brexit, it is innovation itself that explains them and that will itself shape the 21st century for good and ill. Yet innovation remains a mysterious process, poorly understood by policy makers and businessmen, hard to summon into existence to order, yet inevitable and inexorable when it does happen.

Matt Ridley argues in this book that we need to change the way we think about innovation, to see it as an incremental, bottom-up, fortuitous process that happens to society as a direct result of the human habit of exchange, rather than an orderly, top-down process developing according to a plan. Innovation is crucially different from invention, because it is the turning of inventions into things of practical and affordable use to people. It speeds up in some sectors and slows down in others. It is always a collective, collaborative phenomenon, not a matter of lonely genius. It is gradual, serendipitous, recombinant, inexorable, contagious, experimental and unpredictable. It happens mainly in just a few parts of the world at any one time. It still cannot be modelled properly by economists, but it can easily be discouraged by politicians. Far from there being too much innovation, we may be on the brink of an innovation famine.

Ridley derives these and other lessons, not with abstract argument, but from telling the lively stories of scores of innovations, how they started and why they succeeded or in some cases failed. He goes back millions of years and leaps forward into the near future. Some of the innovation stories he tells are about steam engines, jet engines, search engines, airships, coffee, potatoes, vaping, vaccines, cuisine, antibiotics, mosquito nets, turbines, propellers, fertiliser, zero, computers, dogs, farming, fire, genetic engineering, gene editing, container shipping, railways, cars, safety rules, wheeled suitcases, mobile phones, corrugated iron, powered flight, chlorinated water, toilets, vacuum cleaners, shale gas, the telegraph, radio, social media, block chain, the sharing economy, artificial intelligence, fake bomb detectors, phantom games consoles, fraudulent blood tests, faddish diets, hyperloop tubes, herbicides, copyright and even – a biological innovation -- life itself.

Title:How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time
ISBN:9780062916617
Format Type:

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

  • posthuman

    How Innovation Works is an inspiring and thought-provoking review of the history of human innovation with a goal of illustrating three principles. First, that important innovations tend to arise from ...

  • Pete

    How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time (2020) by Matt Ridley is a very good book that looks at how innovation has arisen in recent history and what makes it work. Ridley defi...

  • Otto Lehto

    What a delightful and insightful book. Matt Ridley explains the colourful history of innovations and upends some common preconceptions about how they come up. The book contains several key lessons: 1)...

  • Rajesh Kandaswamy

    If innovation can be bottled into a formula, it wouldn’t be that unique or valuable. Irrespective of the title, I was interested in getting more perspectives of it, especially from Matt Ridley whose...

  • Kurt Jensen

    I was at first quite ambivalent about this book, but ultimately I think it's one of the best books I've ever read. That's not to say I think Ridley is always right. I think some of his arguments are w...

  • Adam

    This book has a lot in common with Andrew McAfee's More From Less, and indeed both authors cite each other directly. They're both very quick reads, touching shallowly on many topics and relying extens...

  • Shawn

    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 i...

  • Peter Tillman

    As he usually does, Matt Ridley looks at problems from a different angle. WSJ just ran an excerpted essay from his upcoming book: https://www.wsj.com/articles/innovati...Excerpts:The expiration of pat...

  • Roo Phillips

    How Innovation Works by Ridley is a refreshing look at the reality of progress. Inventions, Eureka!, aha moments, strokes of genius, disruptive, even “since sliced bread” comprise pithy soundbites...

  • Daniel

    Ridley’s books are always deeply insightful and unconventional. This book is no different. Innovation:1. Happens randomly and unpredictably2. Many failures but a few great breakthroughs 3. Often hap...