Developing your intellectual property into a viable business opportunity is a complex proposition! In this series of posts, Porticos co-founder and President, Greg Patterson shares his insights on navigating the process. First written ten years ago, these posts revisit (and update) Greg’s original content for a new decade of product development.
Read previous post: The Single Product Myth
Passion. It’s a common word in our vocabulary. Most often you’ll hear it used in the context of romance. Merriam-Webster defines passion as “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction, a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” But what’s this got to do with the Business of Ideas? More than you might think. I’d be comfortable in saying that passion for innovation is the cornerstone upon which a successful inventor builds their portfolio.
Developing and driving an idea from concept to the market isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’ve read any of the previous posts you are probably still sore from me trying to beat this into you. Innovation has to be a passion and the kernel must excite the inventor or else it isn’t going to stand the rigors of development.
Let’s take a little quiz to see if you have the passion necessary to weather the storm.
- When you are faced with a fairly simple task that your standard assortment of tools just isn’t cut out to handle, do you:
- Fabricate a special tool to get the job done, even though the fabrication process will take longer than doing the job in the first place.
- Do a time value study of money, comparing your salary to the cost of outsourcing, and decide to hire someone to come in and do the job for you.
- Put the task at the bottom of your “honey-do” list with the hope that you will never get that far down the list.
- When you are pushing the cart around the aisles of your local mega-mart, do you:
- Mentally design a new 5-quart capacity motor oil container that would also serve as the drain pan for capturing and recycling the old oil.
- Daydream about your busy afternoon lying on the couch and watching the Eagles lose yet another playoff game.
- Shake your head, amazed at the fact that no matter what you came in to get, you always leave with a cartload of stuff you didn’t need.
- When you are standing at the magazine rack of your local book store do you find yourself reading:
- The history of the alarm siren in the latest Invention and Technology magazine.
- The latest Foo Fighters article in Rolling Stone.
- The NHL season preview in Sports Illustrated.
- When it’s time to clean the leaves out of the gutters on your house, do you:
- Go down to your local hardware store, buy some PVC pipe, some flexible hose, and some duct tape, and bring them home to create an attachment for your leaf blower that allows you to walk along the ground while blowing the leaves out of your gutter.
- Get a ladder and yo-yo your way around the house, systematically cleaning the leaves out 3 feet at a time.
- Tell your kids to climb out the 2nd story window onto the roof and make those gutters shine.*
* This was a test. Do not allow children on your roof.
Okay, put your pencils down, times up. Although I won’t profess that this is a scientific questionnaire, it’s probably fairly obvious that we’re looking for the answer (a) in these questions as symptomatic of someone who has a passion for innovation. Don’t get me wrong it’s not always the best or most practical answer, but a true “inventor” is always willing to do twice the effort just to develop an idea. Success comes when the two align and the harebrained idea turns out to be the best solution.
So maybe you didn’t answer (a) for all of the questions, but you’re undaunted in your resolve to be an inventor. “Can’t I just make it a job?” you ask yourself. After all, you probably spend the greater part of your day doing things you don’t like; what’s wrong with adding one more? I wish you all the best but it’s been my experience that this approach doesn’t work.
During my career in management, I had the occasion to test this out. I had a team of smart, hard-working folks. Being in a technical environment all of us contended that what we lacked was the opportunity to be innovative. The pressures of product development don’t usually afford the time to “tinker” with unproven ideas. So I decided that I would “reward” some of the engineers on the team who were just finishing a hard tour of duty and allow those folks to focus strictly on innovating a new “widget.” The goal was to develop some new concepts and do some rough-order feasibility to see if the ideas could be viable.
To my surprise, it quickly became apparent that the “reward” was anything but. In almost every case they became distracted by all sorts of mundane tasks, sometimes even seeking those tasks out. Without the “whip” of the project goals, the subsequent orderly check-off task list, or the passion to innovate around the parameters of the kernel, the results were lackluster. I suspect only because they were dedicated engineers who felt a responsibility to produce something did the investigation yield any results at all. That exercise was a stark reminder that what might be considered fun or challenging to one person isn’t necessarily that way for another and vice versa.
So what’s the purpose of this story? Innovation is not a simple “check the box” type of project. And even for those few boxes that are there, the goal isn’t to put the check in the box, it’s to spawn ideas and provide rough guidance. Just making it your job (or someone else’s) will rarely result in a valuable invention.
Don’t be disheartened if your personal reflection is leading you to understand that perhaps you’re not an “inventor.” The fact is that building a business of ideas takes different skill mixes. And many of those skills are just as difficult for the inventor as inventing might be for the non-inventor. In fact, most inventors by their nature aren’t necessarily the best business-minded folks you’ll come across. So focus on your strengths and surround yourself with people who have strengths in critical areas where you don’t. That’s how you’ll have the best chance of success on your road to building a Business of Ideas.