The Needham Puzzle Reconsidered: Organizations, Organizing, and Innovation in China
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This paper discusses some aspects of innovation in China. As China seeks to transition to a knowledge-based economy, it may become more important for China to develop innovative technologies to sustain economic growth. How do China’s history, culture, institutions, and organizations aid or hinder innovation? How does China’s national innovation system compare to the innovation culture in the US, as well as other developed and emerging economies? What are the prospects for the future of the Chinese national innovation system? Our starting point is the Needham Puzzle – the paradox that while China was once a world leader in technological development, it fell behind; the Industrial Revolution happened in Europe rather than in China. Potential explanations for the Needham Puzzle may shed light on the challenges facing innovation in modern China. We identify three factors that might help explain the Needham Puzzle; assess how the Needham Puzzle and Chinese culture and history have affected the modern innovation system; discuss comparative aspects of innovation ecosystems in the United States and elsewhere; and suggest that Chinese innovation emphasizes exploitation and refinement of existing knowledge to the exploration and development of new knowledge. We also discuss implications for the future of innovation in China.
The article of record as published may be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/mor.2016.5
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