We live in exciting times. But the challenges are not short. We have to deal with issues such as ageing, climate change, new infectious diseases, loss of biodiversity and overpopulation. Globally, smart minds are looking for solutions to those problems. Their fundamental research must lead to innovations and inventions in the form of artificial intelligence, robotics, medicines, new materials, geo-engineering.

We owe yesterday's innovators and inventors the comfort, quality of life, health and prosperity we have today. But for all those tomorrow's challenges, we need new innovators and inventors. And the more we have there, the faster we as humanity can progress.
But where do we find those inventors? Can we create them? And what determines whether people become inventors? The American economist Raj Chetty wrote an interesting paper about this: 'Who becomes an inventor? The importance of exposure to innovation '(Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 2019).

The author linked filed patents to the socio-economic characteristics of the inventors and their parents. The first rough analysis provides interesting insights. Those who are born in the 1 per cent richest families are ten times more likely to be inventors than someone from the poorest half of the population. Whites in the United States are three times more likely than blacks. And of all current 40-year-old inventors, no less than 82 per cent are men.

The question is where these differences come from. Is inherited talent unevenly distributed among the population? Or do equally intelligent children from other backgrounds receive different stimuli? Nature or nurture?

Math scores for 9-year-olds are pretty good predictors of later opportunities as an investor. Yet children from better circles seem to have a better chance than equally smart children from weaker backgrounds. Chetty looked at the separate effects of income, ethnic background, school performance and exposure to innovation. The main factor determining whether someone becomes an inventor is an exposure to innovation. Those who come into contact with innovation in their youth are much more likely to become inventors. Growing up with a father who works as an engineer in a technology company, for example, gives a boost.

Children who are good at math or are very curious but do not come into contact with innovation or ideas do not become inventors today. That means we see a lot of talent lost. These are all people who cannot help solve tomorrow's problems. It concerns young people who will never further develop or use their talent. So countless innovators are lost because they do not grow up in the 'right' environment.

That is diametrically opposed to what a meritocracy should be. In a real meritocracy, neither your origin nor your resources at home determine where you end up later in life.

Education should be a place where only talent and commitment determine what you will become later. However, that is not the case. If the bar in education is set too low, some parents try to compensate in another way. The parents with the highest education, the strongest network and the best connections will then invest in private education. For example, a weak educational system leads to more inequality and less meritocracy.

If we want to tackle the loss of potential inventors and product developers, we must do one thing: expose even more children from weaker circles to science and research. That doesn't have to cost fortunes. Only then will we see more inventors grow up.

The result will become visible to everyone: fewer problems, more solutions and a better world.

Author's Bio: 

Education is the most important factor to get unbeatable success