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 11: Parkinson’s Law of Traffic

G. M.P. Swann

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


This chapter concerns Parkinson’s Law of Traffic – a striking example of the dysfunctional and destructive side-effects of a particular business and government innovation. When I was young, car journeys took a long time and I was not a very patient passenger! Then one year, my father said that the journey would now be quicker because of the new ‘motorway’. That sounded pretty good news to me! Before long, however, we learnt that motorways were not always the super-efficient highways that we hoped they would be. While they were relatively empty in the early years, the level of traffic soon increased, so that at peak times, and in the holiday season, they could be seriously congested. Moreover, it only took one accident to create a massive tail-back of many, many miles. Some people suggested that new motorways create new traffic. Indeed, it was suggested that the famous Parkinson’s Law (‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’) has a corollary. Parkinson’s Law of Traffic states that ‘traffic expands to fill the available road-capacity’. This suggestion was met with much amusement in some quarters. The ‘official line’ remained that roads do not create traffic: the growth of traffic was simply evidence of just how much latent demand there was for long-distance road travel. But, on the contrary, Parkinson’s Law of Traffic makes perfectly good economic sense, as we shall see in this chapter.

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