As always, rather interesting post!

I wonder what role "comodization" plays. When price is the decisive competitive criterion, e.g. in electricity production, all innovation revolves around making the product cheaper. In patent-protected areas such as pharmaceuticals, the benefit is predominant. Accordingly, there are different learning curves: learning curve a) concerns production costs - it mainly is the task of business administration. Learning curve b) concerns the benefit - it is the task of R&D. (Pure economies of scale are dominant in software. There, even marketing optimization can increase productivity). This may be the reason why it is not possible to generalise what the main factors of productivity progress are.

In the case of solar modules, the competitive factors of price vs. performance are themselves in competition with each other. 18% power conversion efficiency in solar modules is cheaper than 24%, but in certain cases of space constraints, the higher power efficiency may be the better choice for the buyer. But in general, the jackpot has been cheapness, which is why China has been able to become the main global producer of solar modules very quickly, virtually without much experience, just by providing cheap labour.

In China, a fully automated module factory will soon go into operation that can produce 60 GW (!) per year. In contrast, there are innovators working on modules with up to 30% efficiency. In a commodity market like solar modules, however, it is likely to remain decisive who sets the benchmark in terms of price.

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Interesting point. So you usually hear about learning curves in terms of cost, but I've also heard it applied to things like transistors per microchip, crop yield, or productivity. A lot of these can be reinterpreted as some kind of measure of cost though. It's easier to measure cost than product quality, and so I bet that's one simple reason you don't see more people trying to draw learning curves relating experience and quality.

I think the common factor between all three is that it's a single metric that everyone agrees is desirable. Anything that improves the cost is implemented. As you point out, once you go beyond cost and introduce a second criteria, you start getting into tradeoffs. And in most cases, it's probably a lot more stuff to keep track of then just costs and benefits. Most product have a lot of dimensions, so improving along one may mean making tradeoffs on another. When you have to manage tradeoffs, maybe you start needing planning and someone to keep their eyes on the overall big picture, which is part of what R&D is doing.

The other part of it is that when you start thinking about product improvement or invention, it's no longer obvious that we're thinking of optimizing a given process. Optimization seems a good fit for learning curves - easier at first and then progressively harder. But when you're inventing totally new products or functions the space of possibilities is so wide that the analogy sort of breaks down. Or maybe it shows up instead under the guise of "innovation is getting harder."

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It is also conceivable that there is another main category that covers everything: improvement. People can hardly help but think about improvements once they have a thing in their hands. And improvements are many of different kinds:

- simplify,

- facilitate,

- enlarge,

- reduce,

- increase,

- accelerate,

- cheapen,

- make more comfortable,

- make safer,

- make cleaner,

- make more durable,

- beautify,

- make more just, etc.

Much of this is certainly related to the desire to achieve more with the same effort. Productivity, however, is a category of economic thinking that does not cover progress as a whole. For one might ask whether people think only economically at all. Behind such inventions as Wikipedia or even the internet itself were no economic intentions. Even today, one can observe in many companies that the very employees who work particularly intensively on innovations are more interested in the "improvements" that they try to achieve than in the economic advantages that also result from their passionate work (which often mainly goes to those who are solely interested in the money).

I would suggest the question of whether the progress of human society is caused solely by the striving for economic advantages ("higher productivity") or whether there is a generic, "wild" striving for improvement, as can also be seen, for example, in sport, in art history, in playing chess, in dog training, or in the high interest of Youtube how-to videos.

It seems that there are always people who improve even what seems to be impossible to optimise further. Today, people even work on improving dying, which logically does not increase the productivity of the process, but would make something unpleasant just more comfortable for each of us.

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