Before the revolutionary upheavals of the late 18th century, political leaders did not always look kindly upon innovation. It implied a break with tradition, the introduction of newness into political and religious affairs, and was thus often viewed with mistrust. Such times, of course, are long past. Today’s political leaders actively seek innovation—albeit a narrower form of newness in technological innovation—as the basis for fostering jobs, prosperity, and economic growth.
The study of innovation has often happened at two disconnected units of analysis. Economists, sociologists, and political scientists have generally seen innovation from a high altitude where it is removed from the small-scale processes that, for instance, move discoveries from the lab bench into the marketplace. These scholarly models hold that academic research has over time become more interdisciplinary, problem-oriented, and entrepreneurial. As John Ziman argued in his 2000 book Real Science, research after 1960 became a “wealth-creating technoscientific motor for the whole economy.”