Common Innovation

Common Innovation

How We Create the Wealth of Nations

G. M.P. Swann

Common innovation is the contribution of ordinary people to innovation and the wealth of nations. Innovation and wealth creation are not merely the monopoly of business. While Schumpeter described business innovation as a, ‘perennial gale of creative destruction’, common innovation is more a, ‘gentle and benign breeze’. This book analyses some illustrations of the destructive side of business innovation, and provides numerous examples of the ‘benign breeze’ of common innovation. It builds on the pioneering work of von Hippel, but takes that a step further. In common innovation, the ordinary citizen is centre stage and business can be quite peripheral

Chapter 10: Software Innovation and e-Waste

G. M.P. Swann

Subjects: business and management, organisational innovation, economics and finance, economics of innovation, innovation and technology, economics of innovation, organisational innovation


In this chapter, we look at an unexpected example of the destructive side of innovation. We shall see that software innovation has been an important contributor to personal computer e-waste – that is, the disposal of personal computers that are still in perfect working order, but are unable to run the most recent software. When I first taught a class on this to our MBA students, a few years ago, they were astonished that there should be any connection between software innovation, which they saw as a very ‘clean’ activity, and e-waste, which is clearly a very ‘toxic’ problem. And indeed, the issue of personal computer e-waste did not really surface as a problem until 2002, and the connection to software innovation was only recognised from about 2005. Be that as it may, Greenpeace now recognises e-waste as one of the fastest growing types of hazardous waste. In this chapter we shall start with a short summary of the creative side of software innovation. Then we show, by means of a very simple model, why there is a connection between the rate of software innovation and the growth of e-waste. Next, we discuss why the problem is exacerbated by a tendency towards ‘software bloat’ and by some of the marketing strategies adopted by software companies. Finally, we assess the size of the e-waste problem and the damage it does.1

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