For example, it took three decades after Thomas Edison discovered electricity before it became a reality in American households.

"Assuming we remain in a low growth environment permanently is a mistake," Davis said. But trying to time the moment when everything turns around is dangerous.

It is possible that America could enjoy 3% growth. But that's "at least five years out," he said.

As knowledge expands and most of the easy inventions have been discovered, it requires more big ideas to produce a major innovation.

Only 15 great ideas were necessary for the Wright brothers to get a plane in the air. By the end of the 20th century, it typically required 40 ideas to produce a big idea.

Since 2003, the idea multiplier has moved up from 40 to 1 to 200 to 1.

China has played a big role in this. In 2000, China contributed only 4% of the world's ideas, Davis said. Today, that figure is 25%.

Despite rising protection prompting many to worry about deglobalization, ideas are becoming increasingly globalized. The exchange of knowledge “has accelerated,” he said, and that's ultimately more important than the exchange of goods and services.

Four fields are driving the idea multiplier today, according to Davis. They are the next generation of advanced materials (like carbon fiber), transportation and energy, manufacturing and technology, and genetics.

Nowhere is the idea multiplier larger than in genetics. Davis said that figure is 3,000 to 1.

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