The Sixth Wave

August 12, 2013 in Innovation

I’ve been reading an interesting book called The Sixth Wave by James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady.

The authors look to economic theory to argue that the world economy is on the cusp of a new wave of innovation.  Russian economist, Kondratiev, writing early in the last century, discovered that Western capitalist economies undergo distinct cycles of boom and bust, each lasting around 50 or 60 years.  A later economist, Joseph Schumpeter, picked up on Kondratiev’s cycles, but noted that these cycles were based on innovation; that is, they tended to feature an initial period of turmoil and instability, followed by a period of growth as dominant technological designs emerged.  Those who have the foresight to invest in new technologies are extremely successful.  Eventually, a saturation point is reached which is coupled with massive downturns in the global economy.

The authors refer to five distinct Kondratiev waves over the past two centuries which were as follows:

  1. The first wave, triggered by the industrial revolution.
  2. The second wave, known as the Age of Railways, starting in the 1830s.
  3. The third wave, based on the era of electricity, heavy engineering and steel starting in the 1880s.
  4. The fourth wave, when the motor car emerged and assembly line factories became a reality starting in the early 1900s.
  5. The fifth wave, being the information and communication revolution beginning in the 1970s with the emergence of silicon chip technology.

Each of these new technologies led to profound societal change, as well as having an enormous economic impact.

The authors argue that we are on the cusp of the sixth wave, which will see the world transformed from one heavily addicted to the consumption of resources, to a world in which resource efficiency is the name of the game.  They say—

In this next wave of innovation, resource scarcity and massive inefficiencies will be the big market opportunities.  Waste will be the source of this opportunity and nature will be our source of inspiration and competitive advantage … The sixth wave of innovation will bring an explosion of tools that allow us to monitor, map and manage the resources around us.

And driving this all will be a spectacular boom in technologies ranging from clean technology to digital mapping to online collaboration.

The book is a fascinating read and has many inspiring stories about emerging entrepreneurial ideas and technologies and the profound effect these technologies could have on our society.  I can highly recommend it to anyone interested in the issues of sustainability and innovation.

– See more at: