Innovation or Laziness? What’s the real incentive?

I think about the true incentive of innovation far too often. Humans have a tendency to work really hard to make things easier. When I think about inventions like typewriter, I can’t help but wonder if the real incentive behind the design was drive for innovation and creating a more efficient way to write information or if the incentive was to find a way to be lazier. Charles Wheelan defines incentives as “a force that motivates or encourages an individual to do something”.  So do humans invent new technologies for innovation and efficiency? Or do humans invent new things out of their own laziness?

Today I was sitting in the library with some friends when I realized my computer battery was running low. I couldn’t find a working outlet nearby to plug my computer charger into  and I didn’t want to leave the area where I was sitting to find a working outlet. I was in a really comfortable arm chair and I wanted to stay by my friends. How did I solve this problem? I found a laptop cart with an outlet on it, plugged the cart into a working outlet so it could feed power to the outlet, plugged my computer charger up to the cart outlet, and boom. I went through a lot of work just because I was too lazy to go find a new spot. I put in more work and creatively solved my problem because I was comfy and was too lazy to move all my stuff to another spot. This leads me to my question: innovation versus laziness. The incentives for creating and inventing are numerous. The common thread that I find in creative problem solving is either to improve efficiency or to make less work for ourselves. I want to do less work so I find a creative way to solve that problem, such as if I invent a machine to do this assignment for me. I would spend time and energy creating that machine so I could spend less time and energy doing the assignment.

Humans solve problems when the incentive motivates them to make change. When needs line up with incentives, stuff gets done. The escalator was invented because people didn’t want to walk about stairs. Now jobs are created by the escalator industry, and thus adding to the overall economy. Is this blog post just trying to convince you that escalators are the center of all market transitions in the economy? It is possible.

Incentives matter. They drive humans to work and create. Whether it’s innovation or laziness, incentives encourage people to  create.

-Mary Alice Perkins- AM

Wheelan, Charles. Naked economics: undressing the dismal science. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.


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