Many have speculated on the critical factors that make people good at innovation. A recent study called the Equality of Opportunity Project delved into the sources of innovation, creativity and invention. This article summarizes the results of that study and paints a troublesome picture, but also provides an indication of what can be done to increase the overall innovative capacity of any society.
As the article rightly points out:
Nothing matters more for economics and human living standards than innovation. … an actual ability to invent things and early life exposure to a culture of innovation and opportunity are crucial to driving inventions.
Innovation is an innate human desire and capability, but it is unevenly distributed. The cause of this unequal distribution, it turns out, is early childhood experience. Early life exposure to an innovative ecosystem and actual inventors and innovators at work is critical to the development of innovators. Intelligence and aptitude are not enough. In addition, the study shows that financial incentives don’t have much to do with the creation of innovators.
Although the study itself, and the article describing it, conflate invention and innovation, it is eye-opening to realize how critical early life experience is and that:
it isn’t a lack of aptitude that’s holding back poor kids; it’s that aptitude alone isn’t enough … the need (is) to expose young people, especially those who show early-life excellence at math and science, to actual inventors and their workplaces
This should be a critical imperative of today’s society. By doing so, we could be producing thousands more inventors and innovators than we do today and reap the consequent benefits.