Joseph Wong


On his book Betting on Biotech: Innovation and the Limits of Asia’s Developmental State

Cover Interview of March 07, 2012


We know that what drives innovation is learning from failure. What we do not know, as yet, is how to value failure as a positive attribute.

Economics deals with failure by expressing success (and failure) as calculable and value-neutral mathematical probabilities—a number.

In politics, however, things are not so straightforward. How does a government explain to its citizens that failure, that failed bets, is a good thing? How, in this current moment, when times are tough for so many, can government value failure in a positive way?

Betting on Biotech forces us to confront the political economy of failure. And resolving this political economic tension, I think, is not just a matter of public policy and rational industry decision-making. It is about a much bigger cultural change. It is about devising new metrics with which to measure and evaluate the impact, both negative and positive, of failure. It is, in the end, about normalizing failure.

Short of normalized failure, I suspect many will continue to bet on biotech, and bet on innovation more generally, but that most will lose their appetite far too quickly for those bets to pay-off down the road.