Late October 2012: Weekend Reading: Josh Jordan Department: There Are Republicans Who Keep Separate What They Believe to Be True and What They Tell the Proles...

Must-Read: Anton Howes: Is Innovation in Human Nature?: "Most theories... assume that innovation is in human nature...

...I disagree. The more I study the lives of British innovators, the more convinced I am that innovation is not in human nature, but is instead received. People innovate because they are inspired to do so — it is an idea that is transmitted. And when people do not innovate, it is often simply because it never occurs to them to do so. Incentives matter too, of course. But a person needs to at least have the idea of innovation — an improving mentality — before they can choose to innovate, before they can even take the costs and benefits of innovation into account....

My favourite example is John Kay’s flying shuttle. It was an improvement to the loom, which radically increased the productivity of weaving, and which finds a place in every textbook.... Kay’s innovation was to use two wooden boxes on either side to catch the shuttle. And he attached a string, with a little handle called a picker, so that the shuttle could be jerked across the loom, at great speed.... Kay’s innovation was extraordinary in its simplicity. As the inventor Bennet Woodcroft put it, weaving with an ordinary shuttle had been “performed for upwards of five thousand years, by millions of skilled workmen, without any improvement being made to expedite the operation, until the year 1733”. All Kay added was some wood and some string. And he applied it to weaving wool, which had been England’s main industry since the middle ages....

It is illustrative of many more innovations that were low-hanging fruit, ripe for the plucking for centuries. So the usual, natural state is the state of those millions of weavers who preceded Kay, who never knew another innovator and so never even received the idea of innovating. As the agricultural innovator Arthur Young put it, the natural state is not innovation, but “that dronish, sleepy, and stupid indifference, that lazy negligence, which enchains men in the exact paths of their forefathers, without enquiry, without thought”.

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