Episode #185: Tim Harford Returns to talk 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

Today, we welcome to the show for a 3rd time, the one and only Tim Harford.

Tim is an economist, author, TED speaker, journalist and broadcaster.

He is author of “Messy” and the million-selling “The Undercover Economist”, a senior columnist at the Financial Times, and the presenter of Radio 4’s “More or Less” and host of the popular BBC podcast, “50 Things That Made the Modern Economy”, which is incidentally enough, the name of his new book and the subject of today’s conversation.

From the plough to artificial intelligence, from Gillette disposable razor to Ikea’s Billy bookcase, Tim recounts each invention’s own memorable story and introduces you to the characters who developed them, profited from them, and were ruined by them.

Former Future Squared guest and widely respected economist and custodian of MarginalRevolution.com, Tyler Cowen, says that Tim’s new book “reaffirms his status as one of the great (greatest?) contemporary popular writers on economics”.

Tim and I  go an inch deep and a mile wide in this episode. In particular, we discuss 3 key topics:

  • Why most companies that invest in technology and innovation fail and what those that succeed do differently
  • What should Government’s role be in developing and regulating technology
  • Why we shouldn’t be looking at emerging technologies in isolation and how the most transformative technologies often aren’t the most glamorous

I really enjoyed my last two conversations with Tim as well as the 50 Things podcast so couldn’t wait to have him back on the show to broaden my thinking so with that, I bring you, Tim Harford.

 Topics discussed:

  • The inspiration for the podcast and book
  • How inventions and innovations often have far reaching and unexpected implications
  • UBER getting banned in London
  • Government intervention and regulation of technology: how much is enough?
  • Government: an unlikely source of technology innovation?
  • How the gramophone gave rise to the ‘superstar economy’
  • How the superstar economy goes beyond musicians and athletes and today includes big business
  • Elizabeth Billington and the English Premier League
  • What do air conditioning, computers, the subway, skyscrapers, Dubai and Singapore have in common?
  • Technology creates winners and losers
  • Can we truly forecast the impact of technology?
  • Why companies need to change the entire system around a technology to truly leverage it and capitalise on promised performance gains (this feeds into why most digital transformation projects today fail)
  • Key lessons for corporate executives
  • How the plough started everything

Show notes:

  1. TimHarford.com
  2. @TimHarford on Twitter
  3. Listen to the podcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04b1g3c
  4. Vote for the 51st thing: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4Y4Gn8gbQvp4X87wGLV3n4N/vote-for-the-51st-thing

Get Tim's books:


Listen on iTunes @ goo.gl/sMnEa0 

Listen on Stitcher @ www.stitcher.com/podcast/future 

Listen on Google Play @  bit.ly/FSGoog

If you've got any questions on this podcast feel free to send an email to steve@collectivecamp.us or tweet me on Twitter @steveglaveski or @future_squared

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For more information on Collective Campus, our innovation hub, school and consultancy based in Australia and Singapore check out www.collectivecamp.us