Common Innovation
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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
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Chapter 21: Science

G. M.P. Swann


This chapter is concerned with common innovation in and around the sciences. John Stuart Mill’s celebrated observation suggests that there could be great scope for common innovation to contribute to science:1 … the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. As I see it, however, that contribution is currently much smaller than it could be. Certainly I think common innovation from outside the discipline could make a huge and valuable contribution to economics.2 But of course I may be wrong to draw any general inference from this sample of one. Nonetheless, of all the chapters in Part III, this was the one where it was hardest to choose good examples of common innovation. Again, that may simply reflect on the many gaps in my scientific knowledge. EXAMPLES In this chapter, I have chosen just three examples of common innovation in and around science. The first concerns citizen scientists or amateur scientists. The second concerns the key insights that Darwin learnt from reading the work of economist Thomas Malthus. The third considers science fiction.

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