The Nature of Economies – What Jane Jacobs tells us about innovation

In ‘The Nature of Economies’, Jane Jacobs provides a view on a number of important aspects that often go unrecognised. Starting from her insights on an economy’s main processes, the control mechanisms at work, and the fitness of an economy, we can take a comprehensive look at innovation targets, i.e., the types of problems our society needs to solve.

What’s an economy – According to Jane Jacobs

Lots has been said and written about the economy and how it works, most if it in the specific terminology of economics. It took somebody with a very broad spectrum of interests, insights and ideas to develop a more natural narrative, somebody like the journalist, author, and activist Jane Jacobs. In “The Nature of Economies”, she offers a conceptual description of economies that is entirely based on the very same natural principles that govern chemistry, mechanics, and biology, and a fresh perspective on how economies thrive or fail. This post is a tribute to her work.

Rethinking value

Our values shape our views of life, of good and bad, of right and wrong. We hold our values dear as guiding stars that give us fundamental orientation. They are the long-standing core of our cultures, traditions, and beliefs. And over time, we have constructed our social, economic and legal institutions on the foundation of shared values.
However, our values have changed drastically in the historic past. And I’ll argue that they will morph again in the near future as the Digital Revolution is in full swing.

Rethinking ownership

Our economic system is founded on the concept of ownership. Buying stuff, selling it, that’s the baseline model. Most importantly, how much or how little you posses is key to your social status. So ownership is a central aspect of our society, and it’s woven deeply into our daily lives. But that doesn’t mean it is immutable, that it could escape change.

Rethinking society

Looking for weak signals that might foreshadow major changes, a broad diversity of recent developments comes to the surface. These include the rise of cities as actors in global governance, the demise of the labour contract as the mainstay of wealth distribution, the dominance of data-driven platforms across many industries, and the re-localisation of manufacturing and energy supply. That begs the all-important question: Is there a way to integrate all these ideas and observations? To come up with a reasonably coherent image of the trajectory we are on?