Well, most innovation policy focuses right at the end, once the number of potential inventors has already narrowed to just a trickle. You have to already have a workable invention for intellectual property to matter to you — most inventors starting out will have hardly any experience of the system at all, and in some cases are unaware of its very existence. Or take various schemes to support for entrepreneurs. They help only those innovators who are already trying to realise their improvements. You have to already be an inventor for access to particular sources of funding to be a worry…..
Indeed, increasing the supply of people on their way to becoming inventors is possibly one of the most significant, world-changing things that anyone can do. A core part of my thesis about the causes of the British Industrial Revolution is that inventors found ways to make the improving mentality all the more viral: by raising the status of invention, organising themselves into societies, publishing about their work, creating exhibitions and museums, pioneering new sources of funding, and lobbying for various policies and laws. Some of these activities had downstream effects, but many of them were, at least originally, focused upstream. It’s why innovation was able to accelerate even in the absence of many things we now take for granted, like limited liability or mass shareholding. Even patents, which are generally now tinkered around with to affect the incentives or funding of people who are already inventing, were also originally used to entice inventors to the country — swelling the incoming flow of inventors is very much an upstream policy.
He has proposed an interesting model of development:
We have only seen incremental improvements- the size of silicon has shrunk, the imaging machines have become faster, there is commercialisation of few algorithms that have added “new features” but have we really innovated? I think they made the true genuine scientific advances in the pre and post world war II era and that, to me, is one of the most fascinating epochs. There is an increasing realisation that more funding will probably replicate the same energies that helped to build the atomic bomb. I feel that the distorted system of capitalisation of the economies and an excessive hype around “unicorn club” has done a great deal of disservice. The true value of economy is measured by the manufacturing grit, and hence the pandemic was indeed a black swan moment.
The author does point at the example of a “light bulb moment”- I get several while I am writing. Though it is incredibly difficult to make the people listen, much less than the actual “funding” of “crazy ideas”. I prefer to focus on actionable goals with the direct benefit to the individual. If your project focuses on “global challenges” and “community interventions”, you have failed at the outset because you have removed the individual from the equation. A course correction, on the idea of innovation itself requires a healthy debate.