Robert Solow from this EconTalk podcast on Growth and the State of Economics:
We all know that a lot of the innovation occurs as a business process. I keep telling myself we also all know that a lot of innovation comes as a matter of dumb luck. You set out to solve problem A, and you fail totally to solve problem A, but you solve problem B that wasn’t in your head at all.
I’m not sure we ALL know that.
But, I do think that growth, innovation, improvement in the standard of living — whatever you call it — depends on how good we are at recognizing that we solved problem B.
I’ve been a part of many organizations that end up solving problem B, but ignore it because they are fixated on solving problem A.
I think this happens with R&D efforts in government and other bureaucratic organizations. They get so hung up on their preferred solution (e.g. solar power or wind power) that they ignore discoveries that don’t fall into their pre-selected, politically-correct categories.
How well a system allows the solution to problem B to propagate, I believe, is related to that system’s long-term viability.