T echnology December 2008

Innovation Stagnation


Innovation Stagnation

In the information age, would-be inventors need to learn a lot more before they can create tomorrow’s revolutionizing gizmos. This “burden of knowledge” means that aspiring innovators are going to school longer, specializing more, and relying more heavily on collaboration. Absorbing all the facts at humanity’s disposal will require “ever-increasing effort,” and the pace of innovation will slow.


Why are Ivy League endowments typically so much larger than those of public universities? Because more-selective private schools—like Harvard, which has built up a $35billion behemoth—see far better returns on their endowment investments. Highly competitive schools have skilled administrations, wealthy and connected alumni, and prestigious brand names—all of which can help them draw better asset managers and get better results in the markets.

Greener Berets

The Army will need to master a range of green practices—from recycling motor oil to reducing plastic waste—in order to succeed in the drawn-out stability operations of Iraq and Afghanistan. During long engagements, toxic environments threaten soldiers’ health; waste disposal creates logistical and security nightmares; clean water and viable farmland are crucial to winning over the locals; and discarded hazardous materials can blow up unexpectedly or provide targets for terrorists.

A Loan in the Dark

Home buyers: greedy gamblers or unsuspecting gulls? Turns out, a huge number of borrowers didn’t know what they were getting into before the mortgage meltdown. Eighteen percent of those who held adjustable-rate mortgages didn’t know what the interest rate on their loan was, 41 percent didn’t know the maximum rate they could face, and 40 percent believed, wrongly, that rates could rise by only a point or less per year.

The Political Unconscious

Here’s a tactic disheartened political strategists might try in 2012. When researchers subliminally flashed the word rats before showing a picture of a political candidate, viewers rated the candidate much more negatively. But when they subliminally flashed a picture of Bill Clinton before showing a photo of a candidate, negative reactions went down among Democrats and up among Republicans. Aspiring Karl Roves, take note: independents were far more easily swayed by unconscious stimuli than were partisans of either party.

Share the Road

When stuck in traffic, drivers self-interestedly seek shortcuts to avoid the most-congested routes and outsmart their peers. But the cumulative effect of such scheming can make the shortcuts useless—and impede the flow of traffic for everyone else. Motorists attempting shortcuts increase overall driving time by up to 30 percent in Boston, 28 percent in New York, and 24 percent in London. Closing roads, even in high-traffic areas, can actually decrease congestion by limiting drivers’ choices and forcing them toward routes that benefit the common good.

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