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Contributing author and co-founder.
When it was first published in January 2010, the Big Potatoes manifesto quickly created an international circle of enthusiasts – people who believed, and still believe, that the pace of technological innovation in the West is too slow. Now, a little later, what the Economist (12 January 2013) has called ‘The great innovation debate’ has broken out, with even that newspaper’s optimistic editors asking, of American capitalism: ‘Has the ideas machine broken down?’.
The Manifesto came out of a year’s regular discussions among six London professionals who, earlier, had together prepared 10 case studies for the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) on firms that had innovated their way out of previous recessions. We were impressed by some of the breakthroughs of the Great Depression, pioneered by companies that have since proved durable – companies including Nestlé, Penguin Books, General Electric and Texas Instruments. We felt that, by contrast, the 2008 Credit Crunch had broadly failed to spur major innovations. When we first wrote Big Potatoes, there were, too, few public arguments about innovation.
Big Potatoes was written to revive such arguments. Our starting-point is the full arrival of China and India on to the world economy, and the broad technological tasks that mankind faces in the 21st century. Our key contention is not that people should be optimistic about recent technological progress, or even pessimistic – but that such progress could be vastly accelerated if a can-do, risk-taking politics of innovation can be made popular.
Big Potatoes is an early prototype of such a politics. Events have already shown it to be prescient enough.