I realised that the distinction I drew yesterday between reshaping the economy and reshaping businesses is better described by Joel Mokyr’s terms macroinvention and microinvention.
Once a macroinvention occurs, and a “new species” emerges, it creates a fertile ground for further adaptive microinventions. The macroinvention itself need not be economically very important right away. It is defined as a new conceptual departure and it thus raises the marginal product of subsequent microinventions.
The last chapter of Lever of Riches covers an evolutionary view of technology - new inventions are the mutations, the hopeful monsters, of existing ideas. And, as Mokyr makes clear, you need the conditions to allow those mutations.
What made the West successful was neither capitalism, nor science, nor an historical accident such as a favorable geography. Instead, political and mental diversity combined to create an ever-changing panorama of technologically creative socieities.