Inventors, like inventions, come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years, working with thousands of inventors has given me a lot of time to refine my thoughts about inventors.
Early on, I thought I could easily pick out the “crazy inventors.” Maybe I could, but over time I realized some of the craziest inventors were the most likely to be successful. Others were simply crazy.
With more time and experience, I appreciated working with more established, business-minded clients. These are the types of inventors (or business teams behind the inventors) who can formulate and implement a steady plan to commercialize their technology. After a while, I started to notice some of these clients have more success than others.
So I began to wonder: why can two inventors who seem to be so similar in skills and circumstances end up having more or less success with their inventions? And what can I do to help identify or guide inventors toward the path of greater success?
In case you’re a crazy inventor or a well-healed business professional, here are a few criteria to help evaluate your chances for success in this speculative arena of innovation. And just to make it more memorable, I’ve organized these characteristics to spell “RACE”–Resourceful, Action-Oriented, Compelling, and Engaged.
- You Must Be Resourceful. Resourcefulness comes in a few varieties. Some inventors are blessed with financial resources to engage experts as needed throughout the innovation process. However, most inventors take a different approach either out of necessity or personal preference. If you simply don’t have the money for lawyers, sales teams, manufacturing, marketing, and all the other functions of commercialization, you will need to find other ways to accomplish the same tasks. Interestingly, although a DIY attitude toward technology is probably the dominant characteristic of all inventors, its surprising how many inventors stall and stumble when approaching the non-technical, business aspects of inventing and commercialization. This paralyzing effect is precisely the reason I created the PRO-APP™ Workshop–an intensive, hands-on DIY provisional patent workshop for resourceful inventors (connect with me if you want more details on the PRO-APP™ Workshop).
- You Must Be Action-Oriented. It’s hard to say one characteristic is more important than the others, but if I had to choose one gift for all inventors, it would be that they be driven to action. Simply put, lack of action will wither even the best ideas. Long ago I stopped counting how many inventors with inspiring ideas cannot or will not take action. I meet these inventors weekly. I spoke with someone just yesterday at a social event–he assured me his binders of inventions would bring Elon Musk to his knees. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the only thing I can offer these well-intentioned inventors is a heartfelt (but admittedly hopeless) congratulations for inventing something that will never be shared with the world at large. Meanwhile, Elon is sending people into space and boring holes across the continent.
- Your Technology and/or Sales Must Be Compelling. Of all the areas in which to be compelling, in my experience there are two that stand out above the rest: technology and sales. If your technology is compelling, it will draw people to you. You still must convert leads into sales, but your lead funnel will populate itself with a compelling technology. How do you know if you have a compelling technology? People will seek you out and seek action. I’m not talking about the simple praise you receive from family, friends, and courteous acquaintances–these people will express amazement, but lack the requisite action that proves your technology is compelling. They can tell you they love your idea, but it if doesn’t motivate them to take action now, then your technology is not compelling (at least not to them). Alternatively, if you have a passion for sales, you will know how to craft the right message to generate leads and sales. One or both of these are required to be truly compelling, because these are the ways to drive action from your potential consumers. In contrast, if you don’t have a compelling technology or passion for sales, then your chances for success are greatly diminished.
- You Must Be Engaged in the Industry. The easy way to be engaged with the relevant industry is to invent within your own industry. Experience within the industry in which you’re inventing will give you loads of insight that can only be gained through years of involvement with customers, manufacturing, sales channels, pricing, etc. Be careful, though, to be truly engaged instead of entrenched. Engagement is characterized by open-minded interaction, as opposed to entrenchment which signifies a boorish determination to keep doing the same thing over and over regardless of new insights. If you haven’t “grown up” in the industry of your invention, then you absolutely must have commitment to becoming engaged as profoundly and as quickly as possible. Some inventors can recruit industry talent to fill these gaps quickly. However, many inventors with limited financial resources must engage themselves directly within an industry to navigate, learn, and capitalize on the unique characteristics of their chosen industry. This is, in part, the focus of lean startup theory and the 9-month “Success Plan” I offer new inventors who file their first provisional patent application (connect with me if you want more details on this Success Plan).
While these RACE characteristics can be grouped together, there are multiple, distinct ways for inventors to embody each characteristic. If I did my math correctly, there are 54 different types of inventor profiles using these four characteristics (realizing three of these have a few acceptable manifestations). I believe this is what leads to the otherwise unpredictable variety of inventors.
For fun, if we assume an inventor can be successful with at least three of the four RACE characteristics, there are 28 different combinations that can be successful our of the 54 profiles. Although statistical evidence indicates much fewer than 28/54 inventors are successful (probably because achieving and sustaining the necessary combinations of RACE characteristics is difficult), understanding that there are a variety of combinations and characteristics that could be successful will hopefully open up opportunities for inventors who previously thought there was a single recipe for success.
[This post was originally published August 19, 2018, on LinkedIn by Jeff Holman.]
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