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Summary

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. It is innovation that will shape the 21st century. Yet innovation remains a mysterious process, poorly understood by policy makers and businessmen alike. 

Matt Ridley argues that we need to see innovation as an incremental, bottom-up, fortuitous process that happens 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, involving trial and error, not a matter of lonely genius. 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 from the lively stories of scores of innovations - from steam engines to search engines - how they started and why they succeeded or failed.

©2019 Matt Ridley (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"What a superb writer he is, and he seems to get better and better." (Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene)

"An insightful and charming exploration of questions that range from the truly profound (How does our species capture energy to stave off decay and death?) to the merely fascinating (Why did it take us so long to invent the wheeled suitcase?)" (Steven Pinker, Johnstone professor, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now)

"From the Stone Age to smartphones and from farming to fission, Matt Ridley demonstrates with a plethora of examples how innovation has changed and, for the most part, improved the human condition, despite repeated resistance and frequent failure. Given the freedom of thought that innovation needs, he argues, we can ensure the survival of the planet. We abandon it or constrain it at our peril." (Sir Tim Laurence, chairman of English Heritage)

What listeners say about How Innovation Works

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Positive and fascinating

This book will change the way I think in future. I will have to give it another listen as there is so much information.

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How Innovation Works is a superb audiobook

Matt Wridley takes the listener on a fascinating tour. Walking the meandering trails left by dozens of world-changing innovations. Busting the myth of future-seeing geniuses working in isolation and big reveal moments.

It's more than hindsight and history. Matt drills down to what innovation actually is. With plenty of thought-provoking insights, questions, and thoughts for the future.

The structure and the narration makes this an effortless and compelling listen. Excellent!

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good but rather a political agenda

This is a well-researched and interesting book where Matt Ridley makes a very plausible case for the importance of innovation and some intriguing observations about how it works. As it wears on, however, the author's well-known rather radical libertarian views (for which I have some, but not unbridled, sympathy) become more clear. Having read other accounts of the disproportionate dangerous for example of nuclear power I thoroughly recommend Charles Perow’s Normal Accidents) it strikes me that Ridley can be somewhat glib in writing off all risks of uninhibited trial and error.

Also rather amusing to hear Ridley, after having complained about the the stifling effect of intellectual property in his book (again a sentiment with which I have no small sympathy), to claim copyright in his book in his very last sentence.

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Required reading for all and especially given government

This was a most enjoyable listen. Throughout, Matt Ridley’s easy, clear and unhurried voice was a pleasure to listen to.

His general positivity about the world and it’s improving status in a very large number of areas, due to innovation, is in stark contrast to commentaries by most professional speakers.

His specific examples of improvements were interesting to the point of fascinating, but showing how much regulation appears designed to stifle, rather than enable innovation, and almost always is apparently made to enable the established businesses, who’s profits would be challenged by good alternative ideas, a means of preventing improvements.
These blocks to forward movement in basically all fields - whether by too broad patent or intellectual property rights interpretation, or other means, stopping the small innovator being able to adjust a current product to improve it, by the threat of or actually legal costs, is clear in many examples.

But overall, the author shows how we, as a species, have over the last 200+ years, improved the lives of many more people than previously ever existed, using less materials and less energy, by the use of innovations and thus improving the planet is many ways. Other commentators will only sing out the negatives!

I will be listening to this again very soon. Many thanks to Matt for a well researched and well read book. I will be buying other of his work, whether on Audible or in physical form.

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Ok, but repetitive

Ok , Quite interesting but Gets
repetitive. Message is that innovation is gradual, building on what went before, messy & often not lucrative. Could have been an essay rather than a book

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Innovative

Although this book does seem to get repetitive towards the middle, the same format used for each chapter, stick with it until the end, the reward is worth it! Matt Ridley does a great job of attempting to explain the almost impossible world of innovation, from its history to the present day.

One of the best bits about this book is how it paints a very positive picture of the future by using past examples, especially with regards to great inventions being as well received as the recent pandemic. The next great invention is probably under our noses right now, but we just don’t know it.

Matt also has a great way of explaining the set backs to innovation. Governments take note! Too many regulations or the insistence of giving too much protection to current products appears to stifle our future. However, innovation will always win in the end, as it appears that necessity is the mother of invention.

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Inspirational read

Great book on an under appreciated topic. I hope that our government take the time to listen.

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what an eye opener

This book has helped me gain a new prospective on life in general and the way that all change and progress is a gradual process which has to include more often than not many failures along the way which need to be learned from regardless of whether or not they were yours.

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Exceptional Listen

A literary remedy to overthinking innovation.
If you are the type of person who struggle to fall asleep because you find your mind wondering to fantastical creations, this is the perfect book to help you focus on what is truely important.

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Fascinating and insightful.

absolutely loved this book. entertaining and extremely insightful. It has genuinely changed my view of the world to something which is probably a bit more useful

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  • Alireza Aghasi
  • 28-01-21

Insightful book but didn’t lived up to my expectations

I found this book from Naval Ravikant’s podcast. There he spent 1:30 hours to praise this book. Although I learned a lot from How Innovation Works, but due to Naval’s adamant recommendations, I expected more. BTW, this book gives you a historical perspective to think about innovation.

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  • Neha Jayesh Tandon
  • 13-09-20

Insights through stories.

Mr Ridley has given us amazing insights into what changes the world. This is the kind of work that should be on the shelf of everyone who wants to do something new, which should be everyone.

How do we make this a compulsory reading for all in business and government bureaucracies and in academic ivory towers?

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  • Andrea Giuliodori
  • 30-08-20

Everyone should read it

Everyone should read it, especially politicians and decision makers. One of the best book od 2020. Brilliant.