Innovation, adaptation, and James Watt

Prompted by the recreation of James Watt’s workshop at the science museum, there is an enjoyable audio slideshow from the BBC about Watt’s life and career. As a pioneer of the steam engine, Watt is usually regarded as one of the key figures in the industrial revolution, and the audio slideshow appropriately includes the popular image of him experimenting with a kettle as a precocious child. But there are some other interesting points which might cement Watt’s relevance to the inventors of today. Steam was already an established source of power: Watt’s contribution was to develop the steam engine into a reliable product that, to use modern terminology, could be termed an industry standard. In terms of the consideration of innovators and adaptors, Watt could claim to be a skilled adaptor as much as an innovator. And it was all made possible, particularly through funding, by the contribution of Matthew Boulton, whose range of interests, and determination to put new ideas into practice, would today have led him to be described as a serial entrepreneur

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