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Long Waves: The History of Innovation Cycles

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Innovation Cycles

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Long Waves: How Innovation Cycles Influence Growth

Creative destruction plays a key role in entrepreneurship and economic development.

Coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942, the theory of “creative destruction” suggests that business cycles operate under long waves of innovation. Specifically, as markets are disrupted, key clusters of industries have outsized effects on the economy.

Take the railway industry, for example. At the turn of the 19th century, railways completely reshaped urban demographics and trade. Similarly, the internet disrupted entire industries—from media to retail.

The above infographic shows how innovation cycles have impacted economies since 1785, and what’s next for the future.

Innovation Cycles: The Six Waves

From the first wave of textiles and water power in the industrial revolution, to the internet in the 1990s, here are the six waves of innovation and their key breakthroughs.

First WaveSecond WaveThird WaveFourth WaveFifth WaveSixth Wave
Water Power
Textiles
Iron
Steam
Rail
Steel
Electricity
Chemicals
Internal-Combustion Engine
Petrochemicals
Electronics
Aviation
Digital Network
Software
New Media
Digitization (AI, IoT, AV,
Robots & Drones)
Clean Tech
60 years55 years50 years40 years30 years25 years

Source: Edelsen Institute, Detlef Reis

During the first wave of the Industrial Revolution, water power was instrumental in manufacturing paper, textiles, and iron goods. Unlike the mills of the past, full-sized dams fed turbines through complex belt systems. Advances in textiles brought the first factory, and cities expanded around them.

With the second wave, between about 1845 and 1900, came significant rail, steam, and steel advancements. The rail industry alone affected countless industries, from iron and oil to steel and copper. In turn, great railway monopolies were formed.

The emergence of electricity powering light and telephone communication through the third wave dominated the first half of the 1900s. Henry Ford introduced the Model T, and the assembly line transformed the auto industry. Automobiles became closely linked with the expansion of the American metropolis. Later, in the fourth wave, aviation revolutionized travel.

After the internet emerged by the early 1990s, barriers to information were upended. New media changed political discourse, news cycles, and communication in the fifth wave. The internet ushered in a new frontier of globalization, a borderless landscape of digital information flows.

Market Power

To the economist Schumpeter, technological innovations boosted economic growth and improved living standards.

However, these disruptors can also have a tendency to lead to monopolies. Especially during a cycle’s upswing, the strongest players realize wide margins, establish moats, and fend off rivals. Typically, these cycles begin when the innovations become of general use.

Of course, this can be seen today—never has the world been so closely connected. Information is more centralized than it has ever been, with Big Tech dominating global search traffic, social networks, and advertising.

Like the Big Tech behemoths of today, the rail industry had the power to control prices and push out competitors during the 19th century. At the peak, listed shares of rail companies on the New York Stock Exchange made up 60% of total stock market capitalization.

Waves of Change

As cycle longevity continues to shorten, the fifth wave may have a few years left under its belt.

The sixth wave, marked by artificial intelligence and digitization across information of things (IoT), robotics, and drones, will likely paint an entirely new picture. Namely, the automation of systems, predictive analytics, and data processing could make an impact. In turn, physical goods and services will likely be digitized. The time to complete tasks could shift from hours to even seconds.

At the same time, clean tech could come to the forefront. At the heart of each technological innovation is solving complex problems, and climate concerns are becoming increasingly pressing. Lower costs in solar PV and wind are also predicating efficiency advantages.

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What is the Median Pay of Magnificent Seven Companies?

The Magnificent Seven companies are fueling stock market gains. In this graphic, we show the median pay of each company in 2023.

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This circle graphic shows the median pay of employees at the Magnificent Seven companies.

What is the Median Pay of Magnificent Seven Companies?

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The Magnificent Seven are lifting the stock market to new highs, led by Nvidia, Microsoft, Apple, and Alphabet in particular.

In May alone, these tech giants added $1.4 trillion in market capitalization to the S&P 500—surpassing the combined gains of 296 other stocks during the same period. Notably, Nvidia contributed to more than half of this rise. As tech stocks boom, many are offering robust salaries with substantial stock option plans.

This graphic shows the median pay of the Magnificent Seven companies in 2023, based on analysis from The Wall Street Journal and MyLogIQ.

The Highest Paying Companies in the Magnificent Seven

Below, we show the median employee pay of the Magnificent Seven companies in 2023:

CompanyMedian Employee Pay
2023
CEO Total Pay
2023
Meta$379,050$24.4M
Alphabet$315,531$8.8M
Nvidia$266,939$34.2M
Microsoft$193,770$48.5M
Apple$94,118$63.2M
Tesla$45,811$0M
Amazon$36,274$1.4M

Data for Microsoft is from SEC filings. Total CEO pay includes equity awards and cash pay.

Meta ranks as the highest overall, with a median pay of $379,050, which is more than six times the national median salary.

Not only is it the leading company in the Magnificent Seven, it has one of the highest median pay across S&P 500 companies. Between 2022 and 2023, employee pay increased 28%, following four rounds of layoffs that slashed thousands of employees in its “year of efficiency”.

Following Meta is Google’s parent company, Alphabet, with a median pay of $315,531. The company operates a hybrid work policy, requiring employees to be in the office about three days a week. This mirrors a trend seen across Amazon and Salesforce to encourage in-person collaboration.

At Nvidia, employees received a median pay of $266,939, fueled by its soaring share price. Last year, over $300 million in value was delivered to its staff under its employee stock purchase plan. Along with a competitive pay package, the company offers an unlimited vacation policy along with 22-weeks of paid parental leave.

Falling near the bottom of the pack is Tesla, where the median salary for employees is $45,811. The automotive sector is notorious for steep wage gaps between CEOs and workers, with CEOs often earning 300 times more than the median employee.

In 2023, Tesla CEO Elon Musk earned no compensation, and is instead paid through incentive-based stock options. Recently, a judge invalidated a staggering $56 billion pay package for the executive, deeming it unfair to the company’s shareholders. This pay package was awarded in 2018, with stipulations that Tesla meet certain performance requirements over a 10-year timeframe.

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