My next book How Innovation Works will be published on 14th May in the United Kingdom and 19th May in the United States and Canada. It’s available for pre-order now. While it has been searchable on booksellers’ websites for a few months, and teased here and there on social media, I am glad to be introducing it officially and directly to you, my friends and fans, for the first time.
At some point in the year or two after The Evolution of Everything came out – I remember the moment, but not when it was exactly – the idea hit me rather abruptly that innovation is both one of the most significant human habits and one of the least well understood. I had touched on a lot of aspects of innovation in my previous books, but I have never tackled it head on.
But what is innovation, and why does it happen? After all no other species experiences much if at all, and we did not experience it much until a few centuries ago. Yet now it’s everywhere. This is what I say in the introduction:
Innovation, like evolution, is a process of constantly discovering ways of rearranging the world into forms that are unlikely to arise by chance–and that happen to be useful… [It] means finding new ways to apply energy to create improbable things, and see them catch on. It means much more than invention, because the word implies developing an invention to the point where it catches on because it is sufficiently practical, affordable, reliable and ubiquitous to be worth using…
In the pages that follow I will trace the path of ideas from the invention to the innovation, through the long struggle to get an idea to catch on, usually by combining it with other ideas. And here is my starting point: innovation is the most important fact about the modern world, but one of the least well understood. It is the reason most people today live lives of prosperity and wisdom compared with their ancestors, the overwhelming cause of the great enrichment of the past few centuries, the simple explanation of why the incidence of extreme poverty is in global freefall for the first time in history: from 50 per cent of the world population to 9 per cent in my lifetime.
The striking thing about innovation is how mysterious it still is. No economist or social scientist can fully explain why innovation happens, let alone why it happens when and where it does. In this book I shall try to tackle this great puzzle.
Here is how I tried to tackle it.
I took my own advice and wrote the book in a bottom up fashion, mostly in the form of stories, digging into the details of how important innovations came about, and into the lives of those who did the most to make them happen. This allowed me to tell their stories, and let my conclusions emerge and evolve through example, maybe even through trial and error. By the time I came to write the chapter on “innovation’s essentials”, I had a longish list of lessons I had learned.
The first chapters cover innovation in four of the most important fields of human endeavour: Energy, Public Health, Transport, and Food. I start with what I think is probably the most important event in human history, the somewhat mysterious story of the breakthrough that made the Industrial Revolution possible: namely the harnessing of heat to do work. That’s the steam engine.
I then look at three special cases, Low-Tech Innovation, Communications and Computing, and Prehistoric Innovation, before drawing together the insights in two chapters on the general features of innovation, and the economic theory of how it changes the world.
The final three chapters cover the darker side of innovation – Fakes, Frauds, Fads, and Failure; Resistance to Innovation; and An Innovation Famine – before an ultimately cheery ending about how I believe innovation can be saved. I deliberately don’t say much about the future course of innovation, because I argue that it is essentially unpredictable.
Although there are too many great innovations to cover all of them, I hope the book provides a broad and comprehensive exploration of the topic – from steam engines to search engines, from vaccines to vaping, from dogs to mosquito nets. I wrote it to appeal to those enthusiastic about innovation policy, to those hoping to benefit from innovation and to those hoping to cause or create innovation. And if only one of those applies to you, I hope that by the time you’re finished, one of the others does as well.
I am very excited about How Innovation Works, and think it has the potential to be not only my best book, but also my best seller. That’s where you come in.
Over the next three months leading up to the launch of the book in May, I will be recording the audio edition of the book, writing articles about it, giving interviews and doing online engagements as well as honing my elevator pitch. The days when you waited till the book was out before talking about it are over, so I’ll be building up to publication steadily.
And while it isn’t yet available to read, it is available to buy. Pre-orders, especially for hardcover copies from traditional booksellers, have a larger than normal impact on bestseller lists and other factors that impact a book’s success. So if you’re planning to buy it, and want it do well, please consider pre-ordering, then bragging about it to your friends on Facebook and Twitter or whatever is the latest social media innovation coming soon.
I also hope to release the introduction for free download in the coming weeks, so be sure to subscribe to my new and improved newsletter in order to be notified when it drops.
Thank you so much for all of your help, support, and kind words over the last several months as I increase my activity online and elsewhere. While interacting with fans on social media is an innovation I have been somewhat slow to, it is one I have enjoyed very much.