Isn't it remarkable how some societies harness innovation and creativity while, in others, it's repressed or even ignored? Why does this happen? And, how can we turn our social environments in South Africa into ones where thought leaders can explore their creativity and innovators can push the boundaries? Economic historian Joel Mokyr has some ideas. In his book, The Lever of Riches, he identifies three key factors in building an innovation-friendly society. Here, we'll unpack these factors to discover what it takes to boost a society's technological creativity...
3 ways society can encourage tech innovation
In order for a society to nurture technological creativity and - in the long run - further economic progress, there need to be various infrastructures in place. Access to good education is crucial if innovators are to challenge their environments and make improvements to their lives and the lives of others. Mokyr also says that negative factors like financial worries and unstable home lives discourage creativity and innovation. According to him, necessitous people have a decreased capacity for creativity.
If a society's infrastructure can address the basic needs of life, it will create an environment where ingenious and resourceful innovators can thrive. And, having a ready supply of these kinds of people is the first step toward achieving a dynamic and technologically-savvy society.
One of the greatest hurdles for innovators and inventors is bridging the gap between bringing an idea to life and seeing it take off. When dealing with completely new innovations, there's always going to be a certain amount of risk and apprehension. Perhaps, society might be nervous to try something they've never seen before, or learn a totally new way of doing things. This is the gamble that comes with implementing creativity and innovation.
Incentives like grants, partnerships and financial backing need to be available in order to encourage innovators to take the leap. As local columnist Michel Pireu said, "The person who comes up with a faster horse knows it has a market; the one who comes up with a car does not." Mokyr suggests that sustained innovation can only take place if people and inventors are willing to take on a certain amount of risk and, possibly, wait a long time before they see any payoff.
The third and possibly most important step in encouraging innovation and creativity is fostering a social environment where these innovators feel supported and encouraged. This kind of society must be diverse, understanding and tolerant. Members of the society need to be open to new ideas and willing to make the most of the innovations taking place around them and even in other countries around the world.
Social boundaries like class, privilege, ethnicity, language and religion are all things that hinder technological creativity and advancement. Mokyr says, "Inventions such as the spinning wheel, the windmill, and the weight-driven clock recognised no boundaries." And, as history has shown that many innovators and inventors had very little schooling - some, none at all - tolerance may outrank education in terms of fostering a creative society.
In South Africa in particular, let's work towards cultivating a society where innovation and creativity thrives. We've seen that, according to the experts, tolerance is the attribute innovation needs most.