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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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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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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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Fascinating perspective on innovation

a fascinating perspective on the process of innovation. perhaps a few too many hobby horses, but the central point comes across clearly and powerfully.

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eye-opener for big questions

as you go through the book it gives a new sight to common questions time after time. will listen it again!

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Fascinating historical perspective on innovation

Found this a fascinating read from the first chapters on the steam engine, through the sections on transport, medicine, agriculture and IT, to the Afterword on Covid. Don't be put off by the author's strong political beliefs, which are only aired in the final chapter (there's no doubt the EU has stymied innovation in some areas but he's also critical of US and UK govts at various points). There is something satisfying about hearing a book expertly read by the author himself.

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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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Great book but perhaps not quite 5 stars.

I’ve given this a solid 4 stars as in my opinion that’s still very good just not quite superb. I just felt it could have been that bit more interesting as some of the stories felt a tad dry and might have benefited from being slightly shorter. A very good and very important book but I felt the subject itself elevated it more than the way it was told. Honest YouTube review to follow soon from Tom Maguire reviews

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Truly enjoyed every minute

It’s time to make innovation work! Agree! The book ends with a few words on Covid-19 after taking us through detailed and interesting steps on innovation throughout history and the world. Listening to the writer’s pleasant voice as he reads his book, it becomes clear that we are now (2020) truly in a situation where we should embrace the opportunity the world has thrown us. It’s a positive and encouraging lesson learned. A true gem to interrupt the working from home routine.

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Really good content excellent delivery

If you are interested not just on the theory but the history of innovation this book is an enjoyable journey into it. Is packed full of small stories and reflections of different examples of innovation though out history and even prehistory. The author and reader of the book manage to deliver all this information in a fun and witty way, reading it at the perfect pace and intonation in a way that can capture any wondering mind.

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A great book

A great optimistic book expressig a bright future. Overall an honest reflection on the existence of 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.