In 1988, the medieval city at the modern city’s core was designated a UNESCO world heritage site. It lays claim to being the only European medieval city in constant habitation since the Middle Ages, and more than 6,000 people live within its ancient walls.
The medieval city of Rhodes was occupied by the famous Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem from 1309 to 1523. They were singularly responsible for transforming the city into a fortress and architectural marvel. Prominent landmarks include the Palace of the Grand Master, the Great Hospital, the Street of the Knights and the Cathedral of our Lady of the Castle. Together, they constitute a magnificent ensemble of Gothic architecture.
The medieval city’s protective walls and ramparts inspired me to write about technological advances and scientific breakthroughs in the 21st century. Each of the three fortifications was built higher and thicker than the previous one, incorporating the latest building and defensive technology to protect its citizens from invaders.
According to military historians, the innovations incorporated in each successive wall were a response to the threat of more accurate and powerful firepower and the improved strategies for invading a walled city. The three walls are also a lasting symbol and tangible reminder of the constant need for innovation.
In the modern context, the far-reaching impact and significant contributions of innovation are not well understood. Innovation is the signature mark and powerful engine that drives the new global economy of the 21st century. It has become an essential prerequisite and a catalyst for economic success and collective prosperity in the modern economy.
What exactly is economic innovation? Simply put, it is a response to economic threats or economic opportunities. It is worth noting that innovation is not restricted to the private sector. It permeates the public and not-for-profit sectors.
Innovation drives the private sector in its constant quest to become cost-effective and profitable. Innovation has become an overarching objective of the public sector in the face of fiscal constraints. Innovation is also the compass for the non-for-profit sector to survive in a funding challenged environment.
Innovation has different faces and takes different shapes. It may be a new product, an improved product, a more streamlined process, an improved distribution system or a more cost-effective process for delivering a service. In most cases, innovation is the by-product of scientific advances in technology or a more efficient realignment of an administrative function.
The modern journey for transforming an invention into an innovation is a long and arduous one. It requires a major investment in financial capital and a secure mass consumer market.
The contemporary discovery process, however, is significantly different from what it was in the past. In the previous two centuries, scientific discoveries were usually the brainchild of a single inventor. The names of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell come to mind. In contrast, today’s technological breakthroughs in electronic connectivity, nanotechnology and space travel are usually a team effort, working for a government research laboratory or the research and development department of a giant multinational corporation.
Innovation has a twin brother: entrepreneurship. The two are inseparable and complement one another. Innovation relies on entrepreneurship to integrate the economic landscape and entrepreneurship feeds on innovation by ensuring the profitability of its business ventures.
Together they provide the machinery and the fuel for empowering and sustaining the new global economy of the 21st century.
Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick.