Why Matt Ridley Writes on Innovation

Initially in a #ReadWithMe Series

Matt Ridley’s How Development Functions is an impressive book. It is the third book in a row that Ridley, much better understood as a scientific reporter and, certainly, among those rare individuals who makes highly complicated scientific arguments reasonable to the average educated reader, dedicated to the _ financial _ and _ social _ world. The first was The Logical Optimist, followed by The Evolution of Whatever.

The book is skillful in 2 various ways. It is, obviously, insightful. But it is also a satisfaction to check out. As a great reporter, Ridley knows that the human brain is a “stories processor” and not an “argument processor”. He showers the reader with anecdotes and stories, which make his points more sound and clearer.

I will highlight some points that Ridley makes really successfully in a series of posts. This is the first.

Why did Ridley choose to commit a book to innovation? Due to the fact that, he maintains, “innovation is the most essential truth about the modern world, but among the least well understood. It is the reason a lot of people today live lives of prosperity and knowledge compared with their forefathers, the frustrating cause of the excellent enrichment of the past couple of centuries, the basic explanation of why the incidence of extreme poverty is in international freewill fort the first time in history: from 50 percent of the world population to 9 percent in my lifetime”.

Ridley is completely attuned to Deirdre McCloskey’s understanding of development as what is a genuinely peculiar of modern economies: so not “industrialism” (in the sense of the build-up of capital being the primary force behind betterment) but “innovism” (concepts reproducing the modern world).

Why is innovation not correctly comprehended? “The surprising fact”, he writes, “is that no one actually understands why innovation happens and how it happens, not to mention when and where it will take place next”. This is an excruciating idea and a really tough sell, both for the economist who consults with the federal government on how to foster development in the economy and for the business executive who boasts about the future achievements of his business.

Among the issues is that “innovation is nearly always a progressive, not an unexpected thing.” Yet Ridley argues that it is rarely understood as such. People like to focus on fantastic developments and their makers, on their stories. Ridley does his fair share of that, too, however constantly highlighting how great innovators actually built on what other excellent innovators did prior to them. “It is all too easy and all too appealing for whoever makes an advancement to amplify its importance, ignore rivals and predecessors, and neglect successors who make the advancement into a practical proposal”.

How Development Functions is likewise a book on how innovation does not work: through eureka moments (well, often they happen too) irrespective of culture and organizations.