Violence and Innovation

ABU DHABI – In the 1949 British film The Third Man, the character Harry Lime observes that, during the Borgia family’s rule in Renaissance Italy, the country “had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed. But [it] produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.” By contrast, he contends, Switzerland’s 500 years of democracy and peace produced little more than the cuckoo clock.

While the implication that innovation and creativity are born only of conflict is extreme – in fact, Switzerland is a world leader in innovation – Lime makes a crucial point. Although peace, order, and political stability are widely perceived as essential prerequisites for invention, entrepreneurship, and economic development, there have been many exceptions to this rule – especially when it comes to creativity and innovation.

The United States is consistently ranked among the world’s top ten countries for innovation, including by INSEAD’s Global Innovation Index. But, on the Global Peace Index, it is ranked 88th of 153 countries. Likewise, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands rank, respectively, fifth and sixth on the Innovation Index, but only 28th and 29th on the Peace Index. Conversely, Bhutan is among the top 20 most peaceful nations, but does not even make it onto innovation indices.

Of course, crime, terrorism, conflict, and political instability severe enough to cause a total breakdown of law and order significantly impede creativity and innovation. But some countries show strong resilience in the face of pervasive violence and volatility.