I recently wrote a blog post on The Mythology of Steve Jobs, in which I noted what I take to be a fairly standard understanding among sociologists: that technical innovation is generally the outcome of collective labor and that major innovations are generally produced by well-funded teams of researchers working in places protected from market forces.
The upshot is exactly the opposite of the standard story on innovation we get from mainstream economics. According to the latter, innovations are the result of individual entrepreneurs and are best fostered by intense market competition. But this simply does not fit the history of major innovations. This is shown very clearly in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine by Jon Gertner on the history of Bell Labs.
The article is a bit long, but very insightful and well worth a read. Let me just note a few highlights. Gertner explains that the researchers at Bell Labs were given “years to pursue what they felt was essential. One might see this as impossible in today’s faster, more competitive world.”