The sixth wave of innovation

Posted by Andrew Pegler on May 04, 2011

There’s a brave new world coming and it wants your leftover pizza.

We live in a wasteful world. But imagine if all this waste was not only useful but a driver of the global economy. Well you’ve just glimpsed the future, according to the writings of James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady in The Sixth Wave.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the economy has surged forward in waves of innovation, known as Kondratiev waves after the Russian economist who first identified them in the early 1900s. Kondratiev waves are periods of time – an age if you like – characterised by massive changes in technology and in the markets that fuel and fund it. Five waves of innovation have occurred, starting with the Industrial Revolution:

  • The Industrial Revolution – 1771
  • The Railways – 1829
  • Electricity – 1875
  • Oil – 1908
  • Information and Telecommunications – 1971

These waves usually start in a time of turmoil, inspired by the need to solve a problem. They usher in a period of stability and prosperity before entering a final stage characterised by global economic downturn. According to the authors, we are now moving towards the end of the communications innovation wave.

And the sixth wave is…

The perfect storm of climate change and dwindling resources is driving the sixth wave, which will be about doing more with less, i.e. resource efficiency.

Speaking of efficiency, did you know only 15% of the fuel energy in your car actually goes into running it? The rest is lost as heat, pressure and noise. Whatever your politics, most agree the days are numbered for carbon belching into the atmosphere uncontested. Right now the smartest kids in the room are throwing lots of cash at renewable energy technologies – (a lithium miner in WA just won an award for its groundbreaking project using solar PV and wind in a hybrid model to reduce its reliance on diesel). Amongst other projects, investors are also funding ways to extract value from landfill waste and to control water evaporation from dams.

With the world’s population expected to hit eight billion by the end of the decade, and a developing world keen to enjoy the high life, the future must lie the clever use of our dwindling resources.