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How Innovation Works

Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time
Narrated by: Matt Ridley
Length: 13 hrs and 10 mins
4.8 out of 5 stars (32 ratings)

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Publisher's 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)

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a good overview

This is a good overview of innovation, historical and modern examples, the driving forces behind them and the forces that limit future innovation. you will have to forgive the author expressing his bias in places. But overall, this is a great book.

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Great book

Interesting and well researched book. Matt’s writing style, as always, is informative and engaging and not self-righteous or smug like some in this field of writing.

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Interesting and Challenging

very interesting and challenged some of the ideas that have become mainstream. I really enjoyed the reminder of how we got here

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Very interesting read

Picked this up after listening to Matt Ridley’s appearance on the Naval podcast. Great read especially for my context of working in digital product development. Great to hear examples of innovation throughout history and Ridley does a great job of pulling the lessons and trends from previous innovations. Key lessons are that innovation is a team effort, builds on each other, is an iterative process and is inevitable if given the freedom to do so.

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Best non fiction listen of 2020

I’m a big fan of Matt Ridley’s books. I loved the Red Queen and The Rational Optimist is one of my all time favourites. This new audiobook from him is the best audiobook I’ve listened to in 2020. Narration is perfect. Its never dry and is always thought provoking and engaging. If you enjoyed Factfulness by Hans Rosling you will also enjoy this.

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An important remedy for many current troubles

Engaging to the end, and ending with a flourish not a wimper. Filled with interesting anecdotes supporting compelling reasons for speeding up innovation and encouraging experiments as the way to discover solutions to problems of our time.

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  • Wrap in 1 Minute Saree
  • 13-09-2020

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
  • 30-08-2020

Everyone should read it

Everyone should read it, especially politicians and decision makers. One of the best book od 2020. Brilliant.

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  • John
  • 16-07-2020

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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  • susanneshi
  • 11-10-2020

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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-10-2020

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-10-2020

A great book

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

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  • Anonymous User
  • 28-09-2020

Excellent

This audible program was presented very well a great book for Designers looking to empathize with innovation.

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  • William Jones
  • 25-09-2020

Interesting perspective on Innovation

I was only interested in the conceptual discussion concerning innovation, so I skipped the case studies. The conceptual stuff was great, as was the reading of it. Great work, Matt!

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  • Andrew HOLMES
  • 08-09-2020

excellent book and compelling insight

I couldn't recommend this book highly enough, a fitting follow on from Matt Ridley's previous book, the rational optimist.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-09-2020

Informative, insightful

Many interesting stories, and very insightful analysis (in my opinion). I learned lots. Evidence is provided for the author's opinions (which I am sympathetic to), but not much discussion of opposing opinions - the style is sometimes closer to persuasive argument than objective analysis. This makes it less convincing to me in some places - I'd rather make my own judgements of all views. May also make the book less appealing / easier to attack for those with opposing views. But I found the style engaging (and it is a pop book after all). Narration is good, but not perfect.

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  • Mr. H
  • 12-08-2020

Fascinating and challenging

A very interesting and important message for our time. A must-read for intelligent readers.

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  • Dean Bubley
  • 11-08-2020

Deep insight into the accelerants & brakes on innovation

“How Innovation Works” This is one of the best books I’ve read / listened to in a while. Matt Ridley gives a really lively history of innovation - and how it’s more about hard work, trial & error & incremental gains than sudden Eureka moments. Also gives coruscating criticism of the so-called “precautionary principle” & how it stifles innovation, along with unnecessary regulatory hurdles & bureaucratic timewasting & over-caution. Totally recommend it - and also hope that everyone in government (& opposition) absorbs it in totality.