In today’s global economy, there is a constant drumbeat to come up with something “new.” But you don’t need to invent something entirely new to be successful. Invention is wonderful, but you can be very successful if you focus on innovating on something that already exists rather than inventing something entirely new.
What is important here is to separate invention and innovation. Take a look at Apple’s ubiquitous phone, for example. Apple took a stagnant product category - the mobile phone - and completely rethought how it could be used. They took an existing product category and existing technologies, but still somehow reshaped modern society. Apple’s innovations in design and user interface sparked a tech revolution.
Innovation is really what drives economic growth. This is a theory of Joseph Schumpeter, who was a professor at Harvard University. Schumpeter was one of the 20th century’s major economists. He said that innovation was the product of new combinations, and he proposed five combination patterns: 1) the production of a new good; 2) the introduction of a new method of production; 3) the development of a new market; 4) the acquisition of a new source of supply of raw materials; and 5) the emergence of a new organization of any industry. The advent of the Internet has created yet another platform for new services to be created through the combination of new things in complex ways.
In the end, innovation does not need to mean inventions like induced pluripotent stem cells or anything else. The emergence of new discoveries is absolutely a good thing, but even without inventions, a country or company can still come out ahead. After all, Japan didn’t invent the car or the TV, but it certainly innovated on them and built world-leading companies and economies.