Can Innovation be Planned?

“Education, whatever benefits its may confer, is transmission of traditional doctrines and valuations; it is by necessity conservative. It produces imitation and routine, not improvement and progress. Innovators and creative geniuses cannot be reared in schools. They are precisely the men who defy what the school has thought them.”

– Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action

Every once in a while, I hear talk about educational curricula being made to encourage and foster innovation because in this world those who don’t innovate are at a disadvantage in the competition for the world resources. I also hear talk along the lines of lets replicate place X which is a haven for innovation in place Y, and lets put incentives ABC in place in order to drain such innovative talent from place X. While all these proposals are correct in their basic logic and are laudable and great sounding, they suffer from very critical flaws.

In the case of innovation being encouraged and planned through education, the ability of such efforts can be called into doubt. By the very nature of education (i.e. schooling), a bias towards the preservation of the status-quo and standardization is norm. Students are made into a standard form in which their thinking and acting patterns are the same when it comes to specific topics. In many instances, the ability of students to critically ask questions is stunted.  For example, if a high school students studies calculus, rarely do they study calculus as field with all the nuances being touch. Rather they only student certain areas of calculus with the goal of hitting certain proficiency and knowledge criteria. But for innovation to take place, many times it requires gifted or alter individuals who are able to beyond what is expected and enter uncharted territory.  Further, many times, those who innovate never have their ideas met without resistance from those who want to maintain the status quo and keep things are they are in place.

In the case of trying replicate place X which is known for innovation in place Y, such efforts can also be questioned. Questions are never asked about the genesis of place X and how it came about in the first place.  Often, such places are not the result of human design or elaborate plans but human action with no elaborate plans are the interplay of many complex factors; some of which might be replicable. Furthermore, in many instances no elaborate budgets or resources existed at the genesis of these places. In fact, it can be argued that resource constraints force people efficiency in all that is done. Furthermore, places exist which are great center of innovation and learning because they offered a culture and an environment of freedom and open inquiry while at the same time places existed with equally good or better talent which never became centers of innovation. Bringing about an environment which encourages freedom and open inquiry has no standard recipe which I am aware of but from what I can tell, such can’t be brought about through an elaborate grand plan or legislative fiat.

This issue boils down to two fundamental modes of viewing the world which I have written about in the past. That is one which views the world as an open question and another which views the word as a closed question. Though attempts at fostering (more like planning) innovation might produce some results, the ability to come up with results to which rival places of innovation which were not planed ahead of time are questionable. At the end of the day, if we want to encourage a world full of innovation, students are needed who think beyond the confines of school curricula and who are deschooled. Also if places would like to become great center of innovation, they should look at fostering an environment in which its citizens are guaranteed basic freedoms and free inquiry isn’t hampered.  In doing such, such places might even go on to greater feats of innovation and free inquiry than those places which were looked up to as the ideal at previous times.