What’s the difference between invention and innovation, and which conributes more to our everyday lives? In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes back Matt Ridley to discuss his newest book, How Innovation Works.

Ridley’s book vividly illustrates that “innovation is the child of freedom and the parent of prosperity.” Innovation more often comes from practical people than scientists, he observes, and goes all the way back to Adam Smith’s pin factory. There’s a lot of food for thought and conversation here; we hope you’ll consider joining in!


1- What is the relationship of “tinkering” or “bricolage” to the scientific discovery method? Why do we tend to honor singular individuals versus tinkerers, and which do you think makes the greater contribution?


2- What does Ridley mean when he says, “Jobs, Bezos, and Edison have this one thing in common, which is that they spotted that innovation itself could be a product?” Why does this strategy work in some fields, such as electronics, but not others, such as vaccines?


3- Ridley says, “…the degree to which you have to get permission to go off and innovate in certain areas has become a real problem.” What sorts of problems is he referring to? How might we rediscover the virtues of “permissionless innovation“?


4- Ridley says, “There are cases where you can take the consumer to water, but he doesn’t want to drink.” He cites Google glass as an example. What other examples can you think of?


5- What is the dark side of innovation? Has innovation today become “just gadgets”? Does social media qualify as a positive innovation? What about your family dog? Explain.



BONUS QUESTION– Roberts asserts the following: “You could teach a whole class of economics around this line, I think. You (Ridley) say the following, ‘The chief way in which innovation changes our lives is by enabling people to work for each other’.” What economic concepts does this suggest? What activities/explorations could you build around this quote?