Innovation And Our Well-Being

In a post from 2016, I launched an innovation wheel that captured the activity of the second industrial revolution. This activity set the standard of living that much of society enjoys today. As I mentioned in that earlier post, in a brilliant journey through the economic history of the western world, author Robert J. Gordon looks at The Rise and Fall of American Growth. The book focused on a revolutionary century that impacted the American standard of living more than any period before or after.

Our standard of living is typically viewed as the ratio of total production of goods and services (real GDP) per member of the population. But this measure fails to truly capture enhancements to our well-being. Human well-being is influenced by advances in the areas of food, clothing, shelter, energy, transport, education, health, work, information, entertainment, and communications. The special century (1870 – 1970) that followed the Civil War was made possible by a unique clustering of what the author calls the great inventions. Clearly – as the visual depicts – the great inventions of the second industrial revolution significantly improved our well-being.

Today, many would agree that we have entered another period of great invention. If we as a society manage this phase transition well, we should witness another period of great human development. In thinking about the possibilities, I developed a second innovation wheel. As you might imagine, in the time since I initially developed it, the wheel has grown considerably. In a testament to the rapid pace of innovation, new building blocks are continuously added to the wheel. Both wheels have a new look and feel, with the building blocks associated with each area of well-being highlighted as the wheel is presented – those additional building blocks are included below. Clicking on either image will open it in a separate window.

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