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‘How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes In Freedom’


How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time by Matt Ridley


Dr. Matt Ridley’s ‘How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes In Freedom’ was featured at this month’s Book Club on the 25th of November, with readers joining the discussion virtually over Zoom.

Our fourth online book club session was in fact quite a remarkable one as the author of the book, Dr. Matt Ridley (renowned author, journalist, and businessman), joined the conversation himself! He explained how he had briefly spoken about the topic of innovation in his other books such as ‘The Rational Optimist’ which eventually inspired him to write a stand-alone book, exploring the ‘Whys’ and ‘Hows’ of innovation. 

Dr. Ridley utilizes stories from the past about innovations such as the steam engine, powered flight, the light bulb, and turbines to characterize innovation as a gradual, serendipitous, and recombinant phenomenon for the first half of the book. For the remainder, he examines the factors that shaped the innovations he had previously described.

The discussion began with the exploration of the multitude of ways in which innovation could be promoted in the current status quo. Readers referred to the trial and error method that Dr. Ridley had spoken about where new discoveries were made by constant experimentation and the facilitation of that method thereof could potentially bolster innovation. However, the question of nuclear energy, a scenario where trial and error is simply too costly, was raised as a counter-example. Participants conceded that trusting the mechanisms of innovation as Dr. Ridley had prescribed them, would be the only answer to that, particularly interesting case. 

Another major topic of debate was the role of patents in innovation. In his book, Dr. Ridley elaborates on instances where patents inhibit innovation. On a fundamental level, patents limit information sharing. This deters his ideal process of innovation which relies heavily on the collaboration of both people and ideas. While most agreed, this viewpoint proved to be controversial as some readers argued that the reason why patents and intellectual property rights exist in the first place is to ensure that the inventors and innovators benefit financially. 

Later on, the focus of the conversation shifted to freedom: the most important prerequisite for innovation in Dr. Matt Ridley’s eyes.

All in all, the discussed subject matter yielded intellectually stimulating dialogue between both newcomers and regular attendees of the book club. If you’d like to join us for future sessions and become a regular member, just drop us an email at info@nightwatchmansociety.org.