Innovation Cycles Are Getting Shorter, Here’s How Each Wave Compares

The human race has come up with numerous innovations, with the first wave coming about during the Industrial Revolution. Over a 60 year period from 1785 to 1845, water power, textiles and iron smelting saw unprecedented advancements. In spite of the fact that this is the case, each subsequent wave of innovation saw the time period shrink further.

The second wave took 55 years to finish, and it brough with it steam power, rail and the proliferation of steel. Starting in 1900, the third wave shaved another five years off of the innovation cycle, and within 50 years electricity, chemicals and the internal combustion engine became commonplace.

With all of that having been said and now out of the way, it is important to note that the fourth cycle saw an even sharper decrease in the number of years it required to fully play out. Between 1950 and 1990, petrochemicals, electronics and aviation drove the fourth wave of innovation.

1990 is when the fifth wave began, and it is the one that people will be most familiar with because of the fact that this is the sort of thing that could potentially end up giving us the internet, software as well as the new media landscape that we all rely on. It completed its cycle in 2020, after which the fifth wave came into existence.

We are currently going through this fifth wave of the innovation cycle. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, drone technology and clean tech are just some of the many inventions that will serve as a hallmark of the fifth wave. Based on the decreases we have seen in time periods with previous waves, this fifth wave should take no more than 20 to 25 years to play out.

This means that we may enter the fourth wave as soon as 2040, and it will be interesting to see what inventions it brings to the table. No doubt they will be influenced by what came before, although there is always the chance that it will include inventions that no one could have predicted just a short while ago.

Innovation Cycles Are Getting Shorter, Here’s How Each Wave Compares
H/T: VisualCapitalist

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