Literature abounds on the importance of innovation in business, as a mechanism for ensure enduring competitiveness, for improving employee job satisfaction, and for entering new markets be they geographical and product/service. But from an evolutionary perspective, our ability to innovate is one of the key enabling and distinctive features of our species; It was through innovation that we were able to leave the plains of Africa and land Neil Armstrong and others on the moon; that we developed technologies like wireless communication and GPS; that we developed new products like smart phones and 3D printers; that we used fire to drive steam engines; that we harnessed electromagnetism and developed loud speakers and electric engines; and developed new business models like crowd funding, specialisation of labour, and micro-financing.
As the examples above show, the benefits of innovation are widespread, with often only a small proportion of them accruing to the innovator. Economists refer to the ‘spillovers’ from innovation; a recognition of the fact that many innovators reap no returns at all from the time and money they invest in innovation, and even successful ones often create much more value for the competitors, customers, and unrelated businesses than for themselves. Businesses that developed and built computers often got rich, but the value they created was dwarfed by the value created in the wider economy by the adoption of computers and the improvements in efficiency that they inspired. And herein lies one of the secrets to the power of innovation; by its very definition, its focus on the creation of value (economic, social, environmental, cultural) drives a strong predilection to the benefits accruing to the many.