Some people argue that most easy great ideas have been plucked already and great discoveries are more and more difficult to come by. My take on this is that over the past century there has been a decreasing number of marketable innovations. These days is very difficult to sell ideas and one usually needs to buy - hire the person/team that holds the IP. I recently found a paper that formalizes this idea using the concept of knowledge burden.

The authors are mainly looking (with data) at the rate of startup founding and the rate of employment of highly skilled individuals in those startups. As the amount of technical knowledge is growing faster than exponentially marketable ideas also require much more skills and knowledge. As a result the startup founders need to be older and more experienced. More realistically, large diversified teams are required to bring an idea to fruition. Therefore, there are fewer high-tech startups. The fraction of PhDs that are founders is declining even faster.

The paper is a fascinating read. It is also depressing as hell. Gone are the times of the inventor tinkering in a garage and living off his brilliance. To monetize an idea one needs commercial and administrative experience in addition to an always expanding array of technical skills. Better find employment in a large existing organization.

As this knowledge burden is unlikely to go away, any hope for restoring the dynamism of the industrial revolution should be found in new ways to organize collaborative work. Can small, unstructured (without a hierarchy) teams take the place of individual inventor? Are there any useful tools or regulatory actions for this?