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Change Happens

Ski JumpPhoto: tpower1978

We tend to think of recent technological change as a complex process involving huge amounts of capital and labor (large numbers of researchers and developers). Yet the Winter Olympics should remind us that it is still possible to improve output with a little thought, luck and experimentation.
Consider cross-country skiing. It is now standard for skiers to “skate,” as that enhances speed; yet nobody was doing that when I learned the sport 30 years ago. Similarly, no ski jumper would have spread his skis at an angle 30 years ago, yet today forming one’s skis into a wing is standard and has greatly increased distances. Further afield, stomach ulcers were treated in many ways, until a lone Australian researcher showed they are caused by bacteria. How many other examples are there of recent major improvements in an activity that resulted from a single individual’s insight?