It is no secret that innovation is a powerful driver of growth in any modern economy. How does a country promote innovation activity? A recent study by economists Alex Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova and John Van Reenen on a million inventors in the US offers some fascinating insights. There are three important lessons. First, children whose parents are in the top 1% by income are 10 times more likely to become inventors compared with children whose parents earn less than the median income. Second, children exposed to inventors at an early age, thanks to growing up in innovation hubs, are more likely to become inventors themselves. Third, star innovators already earn big bucks, so it is unlikely that financial incentives such as tax cuts will boost innovation.

The five economists say that governments should thus focus on helping potential innovators—who they describe as the lost Einsteins—through policies ranging from mentoring programmes to internships to interventions through social networks. These should be important inputs in the Indian discussion on innovation as well.