How Innovation Works Book Summary By Matt Ridley

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"How Innovation Works" is a book that takes a deep dive into the world of innovation.

It looks at the history of human ingenuity and explains how innovation happens, why it's important, and what makes it so remarkable.

The book covers all aspects of innovation – from creativity to entrepreneurialism to technological advancement – in an entertaining and enlightening way.

It also offers insight into the world's greatest innovators, such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg.

With this comprehensive yet accessible guide, readers gain a better understanding of the power and potential of innovation.

How Innovation Works Book

Book Name: How Innovation Works (And Why It Flourishes in Freedom)

Author(s): Matt Ridley

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 29 Minutes

Categories: History

Author Bio

Matt Ridley is a best-selling author with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to science, technology, and economics.

His books have reached a broad audience due to his focus on innovation and the human ability to create new ideas.

Some of his most popular titles include The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, and Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters.

Ridley is unafraid to tackle complicated topics with an entertaining yet educational point of view that reaches readers from around the world.

Uncovering The Secrets Of Human Innovation: How Margarine Was Illegal, Pus Prevented Smallpox, And Your Frying Pan Shares With An Atomic Bomb

Human Innovation

How Innovation Works provides an insightful overview of innovation history.

The book examines some of humanity’s greatest inventions, from radio to jet engines, and reveals the conditions needed for creativity and change to thrive.

It delves into how these advances have been made, explains why margarine was once illegal, and gives a detailed look into how something as simple as pus can be used to prevent smallpox.

Throughout the book, readers will discover that innovation is a messy yet incremental process based on collaboration and open discourse.

Moreover, it explains why there are commonalities between seemingly unrelated things such as atomic bombs and frying pans!

All in all, this book offers a compelling overview of innovation history that will surely bring understanding on this complex but fascinating topic!

Innovation Is A Collective Process: We Owe Our Modern Age To The Work Of Many Minds

Innovation is never a simple or straightforward process.

To understand how innovation works, take the example of the atmospheric steam engine – an invention credited to Denis Papin, Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen but with debate as to who was truly first or how much each influenced the others.

This illustrates that innovation is often more complex and collective than it may seem.

The many contributors must bring their own ideas and influences to the table, drawing on tools and technologies available at the time.

The story of the lightbulb – where Edison receives credit for the invention even though over 20 other creators patented similar devices before him – reflects this trend too.

Every breakthrough is highly dependent on what those around them know and have done before, enabling people to make refinements on an existing concept with new ideas or approaches being built upon existing structures.

It’s simply not possible for every innovative idea to come from one individual; instead, innovation involves collaboration between different minds from all walks of life to yield successful results that have a lasting impact over society.

High-Risk Innovations Unlock Life-Saving Potentials: The Impact Of Trial And Error On Medical Discoveries

When exploring medical innovations, one must understand the risks they bring and the potential rewards they can offer.

The revolutionary techniques adopted during the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s are testament to this idea.

Engraftment, a technique of rubbing pus harvested from a person recovering from smallpox into open wounds on one’s body, is one example that illustrates this concept.

Although it came with significant risk and revulsion, engraftment was shown to be effective, consequently resulting in even greater benefits and helping lives around the world.

More recently, the introduction of chlorine in Jersey City’s water supplies offered another great innovation that could potentially save thousands of lives.

While introduced with much controversy due to fears associated with introducing chemicals into consumable water supply, within months cholera and other diseases rates dropped drastically making it a resounding success story for all involved.

We also see similar plays of innovation as yet-to-be-fully-understood electronic cigarettes take off around the world – some countries encouraging their use while others completely ban them due to their unknown health effects.

In any case however, it cannot be emphasized enough how risky and how rewarding medical innovations can be; many times offering far greater rewards than risks that accompany them.

It Takes Slow, Steady Improvements To Bring About True Transformations In Transportation


Travel innovation isn’t born out of revolutions, but rather of countless small steps.

Look no further than the locomotive industry’s journey – it took engineers a series of attempts and improvements before they perfected the new mode of transport.

The steam-powered locomotive emerged in the early 1800s as an idea supported by inventors.

Unfortunately, working out how to make such a device a reality wasn’t easy—the tried-and-true horse was still king of transportation at the time.

With various prototypes, beginning with The Salamanca, The Puffing Billy, and The Sans Pareil, engineers could test out new designs and give each one its own bold name in hopes that one would succeed.

It went through multiple phases: better speed, improved safety measures, heightened reliability… until 1829’s Rocket was able to carry up to 13 tons of cargo at 30 miles per hour!

This was when a railway boom began—all thanks to incremental improvements over time.

This same principle can be seen with automobiles as well: While its first ancestor used hydrogen and oxygen for power in 1807 (and was incredibly loud, clunky, and prone to explosions!), Jean Joseph Lenoir made progress by replacing that with petroleum powers in 1860; Nikolau Otto followed up by introducing a four-stroke engine cycle for smoother operation; Karl Benz used that design to help build his Motorwagen; and Henry Ford pushed it further by making his Model T more affordable through assembly line production.

It all just goes to show that travel innovation relies on constant improvement over time – not quick revolutions or major upheavals in existing technology or design.

The Power Of Intangible Innovations: How Arabic Numerals Revolutionized Europe

We often think of innovation as something specifically related to the creation of new objects or inventions.

However, the notion of innovation is actually much broader than this – it can simply be an idea for a new way of doing things, without necessarily having a tangible end product.

Just look at something like the Arabic numerical system – it’s not a physical object but rather an idea which revolutionized mathematics and economics.

Before the use of Arabic numerals in Europe, the Roman numeral system was used to represent different values – but with Arabic numbers, things moved onto a positional system which greatly increased its potential applications.

With Arabic numbers, it suddenly became possible to do far more advanced calculations such as multiplication, division and algebra.

It also simplified financial record keeping significantly – all thanks to an idea for something better!

This example shows us that some of the most influential innovations in history are intangible entities rather than solid objects.

They open up new ways for us to approach the world or solve problems without ever creating anything material – and this is true innovation at its finest.

The Power Of Communication: How Rapid Technological Innovation Transformed The World

The need to communicate effectively and quickly has been the catalyst for some of the most revolutionary innovations in communication technology.

The invention of the telegraph was the first practical step towards electrified communication, allowing messages like Henry Clay’s nomination to travel from Baltimore to Washington DC in mere seconds instead of an hour by train.

It didn’t stop there though.

With the advent of the telephone and eventually computers, people could now access information in a much faster and more efficient manner, transforming the way information is shared around the world.

Computers have improved in leaps and bounds, thanks to miniaturized transistors that make them faster, cheaper and even smaller which then allowed us to access previously unimaginable levels of computing power with devices like smartphones.

Of course one cannot forget how improved communications give us unprecedented access to data through networks such as the internet.

This gives people immense power while connecting all corners of globe with just a tap or click – something not possible just a few decades ago.

It is therefore right to say that our quest for easy communication fuels rapid innovation, made apparent by how quickly these revolutionary inventions changed how people functioned on a daily basis around the world!

The Path To Innovation: Chance, Collaboration, And Recombination


Chance, collaboration, and recombination – these are the three key elements of innovation.

Just look at tetrafluoroethylene, also known as PTFE; it was first synthesized in 1938 by accident.

A scientist researching refrigerants found that when stored at sub-zero temperatures, a chemical solidified into an unusually stable and heat-resistant substance.

It took multiple people to see the potential in this discovery and apply it to consume PTFE in everyday contexts from kitchen appliances to Gore-Tex clothing to fluorine gas chambers for atomic bombs.

The same goes for DNA evidence in criminal cases.

In 1977, Alec Jeffreys accidentally discovered that everyone has a unique genetic code like their own fingerprint – something no one had specifically set out to find.

This chance discovery captured the attention of local police officers looking for evidence to solve a murder case, leading them to work with Jeffreys on collecting and analyzing genetic samples from suspects and ultimately solving the crime using his newfound information.

These stories demonstrate just how much innovation relies on combining different perspectives and experiences together to create something entirely new from something we already know.

Great innovations often begin with serendipitous discoveries followed by trial and error as people attempt to use them for practical purposes in various contexts – leading us back to our original thesis; chance, collaboration and recombination are essential for fostering innovation.

Identifying places where people can interact with one another is invaluable for encouraging truly creative solutions – think universities, trading hubs, and major cities throughout history!

The Lesson Of Kodak And The R101: Innovation Requires Input From Both Government And Private Enterprise

Innovation doesn’t always need to come from the top-down approach.

Expertise and guidance can be offered by the government, but it often takes the ingenuity of private enterprise to turn research into fully formed products.

The development of the internet is a perfect example of this dynamic; while basic computer networking concepts were developed by a U.S.

Government Lab, it was private firms who actually got households to use it as an everyday necessity.

We also see this trend when looking at Kodak, which failed in its attempt to innovate a digital camera in 1975 because their higher-ups just couldn’t foresee the potential that lay within their scientist’s invention.

Instead, it was smaller companies that were able capture the digital photography revolution and gain market share – resulting in Kodak’s ultimate bankruptcy in 2012!

Overall, these examples show that even though the state can provide funding and guidance for research projects, new ideas don’t always have to come from above – they may come from start-up companies or small firms with out-of-the-box thinking.

Innovation doesn’t always have to come from one specific place – oftentimes it arises from unexpected places!

Rethinking Innovation: Understanding The Tension Between New Ideas And Fear Of Change

No matter how innovative and game-changing an idea might be, it will always encounter resistance from certain groups.

Take margarine for example—when it first came on the scene in 1869, the dairy industry feared its potential to take away their own market share and so ran a vicious campaign against it.

This led to two-thirds of states banning this innocuous spread by the 1940s.

Similar stories can be seen with tractors, refrigeration technology, radio stations playing recorded music, genetic modification, and extended copyrights.

Whenever a truly novel idea arrives or tougher intellectual property regulations are put in place, established interests try to stifle this innovation.

They deliberately create doubts about safety or efficacy to scare people away and keep their position of power secure.

It’s clear that innovation will always face resistance—first because people fear change and second because entrenched industries don’t want to risk losing their authority.

However, these attempts to discourage progress can also strengthen ideas where others are inspired by opposition or unlocked once people realize what’s beyond political motives.

Will The Western World Keep Up With Rising Nations And Return To Its Innovative Past?

Western World

It may seem that the West is constantly innovating, with new technologies and developments being made every day.

But when you look closer, that’s not really the case.

Many sectors are stuck in a rut, unable to make any groundbreaking changes or advances – transportation is one such example.

In fact, commercial aircrafts still travel at pretty much the same speeds as they did in 1958!

The business world is also becoming increasingly stale.

In Europe, the 100 most valuable businesses don’t have a single company younger than 40 years old.

At the same time however, innovation is booming elsewhere around the world.

China for instance has been heavily investing in urbanization and cutting-edge technology for many years now, with Chinese firms becoming some of the leading players in industries like social media and finance.

Even their universities are making incredible strides in fields like gene editing and AI development.

These trends indicate that innovation is lacking in the Western world but thriving elsewhere – something that should be taken note of if this gap isn’t to widen even further going forwards!

Wrap Up

The key theme in How Innovation Works is that innovation is a complex process that takes time, collaboration and experimentation.

It does not result from an instantaneous creative act done by an individual genius.

Instead, it happens when people come together and share their chance encounters and serendipitous insights with each other, remixing them to eventually create new inventions or improve existing ones.

If we want to ensure more innovation in the future, we need to encourage the open exchange of knowledge and be willing to take more risks as individuals, organizations and nations.

By viewing innovation just as something practised by lone geniuses, we miss out on all its potential.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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