I’ve been in academia for over two decades, and it’s become increasingly obvious that the structure of the workplace and the rewards structure can act as genuine disincentives to producing disruptive technology.
Particularly in the global health area in which I’m increasingly working — sometimes we can’t pursue solutions that have the potential to really make a change because they’re not “research” in the sense of something a grad student can use to get a PhD or something that is likely to be grant fundable. Sometimes innovations happen by repurposing or remixing old technologies — but those kind of game-changers violate the academic definitions of research.
One one level it’s an argument for academic-industry partnerships. But when you’re talking low-cost solutions, the industrial incentive structure can act as a similar obstacle for innovation. After all, no one wants to undercut their own market.
My book on hackers and makers as sources of innovation is starting to take a closer look at this dynamic, comparing those communities to established institutional structures like universities and large corporations, and contrasting the reward structures to better understand how to cultivate genuinely disruptive solutions.