New Areas for Innovation Push Back Against “The Great Stagnation”

Lynne Kiesling

Happy New Year! Here’s a little dose of technology optimism to start your year off: 2012 was a good, solid year for innovation, and there’s room and opportunity for even more. This TechCrunch article describes some burgeoning innovation opportunities in health care, education, transportation, and entertainment.

Here’s one thing to bear in mind if you despair about innovation and economic growth, along the lines of Tyler Cowen’s “great stagnation” or Robert Gordon’s argument that innovation is slowing inexorably:

There was no “next big thing” to speak of, meaning there was no new big company to take attention away from Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. That’s ok, though, because there were plenty of companies that looked at what we do on a daily basis, and found new and cool ways to make it more fun or less time consuming. That’s innovation, too.

That’s a crucial point. Innovation is more than just the massively disruptive, Schumpeterian discrete change that breaks us out of our existing patterns. The microinventions, the small tweaks, the ways to make the mundane less mundane or at least less costly, all add up, and over time and in aggregate they can have a substantial impact on how we live our lives, on productivity, and on economic growth. It’s just that they sneak up on you rather than bashing you over the head.