What Political System Best Fosters Innovation?

My research shows that innovation always emerges from collaborative groups and distributed social networks. My 2007 book Group Genius proves that the lone inventor is a myth. All creativity emerges from many contributions, from many different people, distributed through space and time.

The most innovative teams, organizations, and economic systems are the ones that enable everyone’s ideas to come together most effectively. I can talk for hours about the implications of this research for organizational structure and culture, but I tend to avoid discussing the political and economic implications.  Do you think that the “group genius” message is implicitly critical of Capitalism–with its narrative of the solitary individual, the hard-working entrepreneur, fighting against entrenched interests? And if so, wouldn’t group genius then be associated with Socialism, with collective systems that have everyone working together toward a common goal?

If you’re intrigued by this question, you should read columnist Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal:

When future historians look back on our times, they will ask, why did the U.S. dominate all its peers when it came to the really big innovations? It didn’t happen because enlightened mandarins in the federal bureaucracy and national labs were peering around the corners of the future. Innovation happens when the federal government isn’t paying attention, and because entrepreneurs can go against the grain and ignore the consensus of experts. And, because our capital markets are sometimes willing to bet against those experts.

Innovation depends less on developing specific ideas than it does on creating broad spaces. Autocracies can always cultivate their chess champions, piano prodigies and nuclear engineers; they can always mobilize their top 1% to accomplish some task. The autocrats’ quandary is what to do with the remaining 99%. They have no real answer.

A free society that is willing to place millions of small bets on persons unknown and things unseen doesn’t have this problem. Flexibility is its true test of strength. Success is a result of experiment not design. Failure is tolerable to the extent that adaptation is possible.

This is the American secret, which we often forget because we can’t imagine it any other way. It’s why we are slightly shocked to find ourselves coming out ahead. [I have paraphrased Stephens’ words a bit here and there…]

Stephens ends by attributing the success of the United States to group genius:

We are larger than our leaders. We are better than our politics. We are wiser than our culture. We are smarter than our ideas.

5 thoughts on “What Political System Best Fosters Innovation?

  1. Suggest all read The Entrepreneurial State It is nit so simple.
    The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths (Anthem 2013) is stirring up much-needed debate worldwide about the role of the state in fostering the innovation needed for smart, sustainable growth.

    The book comprehensively debunks the myth of a lumbering, bureaucratic state versus a dynamic, innovative private sector. In case study after case study Professor Mazzucato shows that the opposite is true: the private sector only finds the courage to invest after an entrepreneurial state has made the high-risk investments – from the green revolution to biotech and from pharmaceuticals to Silicon Valley. And she argues that by not admitting the State’s role we are socializing only the risks, while privatizing the rewards.

    In 2014 Professor Mazzucato was awarded the New Statesman SPERI prize for her work on smart growth and the entrepreneurial state. The book was shortlisted for the prestigious Wirtschaftsbuchpreis in Germany and featured on the 2013 books of the year lists of the Financial Times and Forbes. It has been translated into Italian, German, Portuguese and Spanish. Forthcoming: Greek, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

    1. I do not know of this book and haven’t read it, but from your description I would say the thesis is directly opposite the prevailing academic, business, and political perspectives in the United States. The thesis would be considered quite far to the left of the political spectrum in the United States (as you probably already realize). I am not surprised that it would be well-received in countries that tend to look to government for solutions, and well-received by people who “don’t believe in markets” (I have discovered that many of my European colleagues are suspicious of markets and of the private sector, this attitude is quite rare among U.S. academics, even those who are very liberal). If the thesis is correct, then Europe and China will soon take over from the U.S. in entrepreneurial successes. Let’s talk again in ten years!

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