Conformity has become the enemy of American invention. As our society has become more divided and less tolerant of differences, and as applied technologies have become more complex and intimidating -- our emotional creative capacity to invent has become stuck -- just as our routine process for invention has become lost to being the intriguing and widely-accepted art form it once was.
We must bring back the practice of Intentional Invention at all costs. Intentional Invention is the single most courageous and fearless act that people in our organizations, communities and country can make to revive our roots and flourish to compete and thrive again.
As has been proven for decades with inventions like the microwave, Teflon, Play-Doh, and Post-it notes, many inventions happen by accident. However, like most all inventions, these were created while undergoing a structured invention process that was intended for another purpose to solve a very different problem.
Invention is the most courageous and fearless act a person can make. It requires the discipline to research, follow through, originate, and build an idea from nothing. There are no guarantees that it will work. It is purely the courageous act of following one’s instincts toward creating a solution that is simply believed to be a relevant solution. Yet, the inventor has a process – and he or she perseveres and strives to create during moments of disappointment, conflicting ideas, rejection and failure... until hopefully that Eureka moment arrives.
“Invention is the most courageous and fearless act a person can make.”
— Shelley Moore, President and Founder of Insight Strategic Concepts
During the Industrial Revolution, independent invention was the missing link that closed the loop on making America great. As an author of invention, Thomas Hughes states, during the late 1800s, “no other nation has displayed such inventive power and produced such brilliant innovators as the United States.”
“Americans were naturals at applied science, improving many ideas that were already in existence and bringing them to fruition with resources newly available during the Industrial Revolution: Samuel Morse did it in creating the telegraph; Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but he made it practical and got his name in lights for the work; many men attempted to fly before the Wright brothers finally succeeded — under power and more or less controlled — at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”
— Thomas Hughes, author of American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970
Everyone today has the same instincts to invent. Do we have enough people with the courage to invent? While desperate times bring desperate measures, and innovation is natural outcome of conflict and discord, we don’t see enough attention in our communities and mainstream media being given to highlighting the pure creative energy and outcomes of invention.
If you agree that innovation has been the backbone of our economy and the source of pride in our country, are you doing enough to promote, feature and encourage invention in your community and organization?
An article in The Hill provides some excellent universal guidelines that can stir some thinking about how we must work harder to find and promote invention.
First, global societies must embrace and cultivate traits like lifelong passion for curiosity and learning, risk-taking, failure, tenacity, out-of-the-box thinking, collaboration, and support for the unknown or hard-to-explain.
In countries like the United States, we must continually improve mechanisms of support for these innovative thinkers by having conversations and taking action to ensure we have enough vehicles in place to incentivize invention.
Societies must commit to trying new ideas and products. We are too often sluggish and hesitant to allow disruptors to disrupt.
Globally, we need to highlight, celebrate, inform, influence, and inspire people about the realities of invention and the possibility of becoming an inventor.
Finally, as a global community we need to be excited about the possibilities for the future. We have many seemingly intractable problems, but we also have incredible people in the world looking at problems and solutions in new ways.
“Being an inventor means holding tight to one’s curiosity about life, and it means solving problems by reimagining and acting on ideas. This is not easy when most of our systems and organizations require conformity.”
— Yolanda L. Comedy and G. Nagesh Rao, authors of Encouraging Invention and Innovation, The Hill
Rebirth Intentional Invention
If you are a novice at Intentional Invention, here are some leadership guidelines and a proven stage-gate invention process design that will lead you and your team to creating a structured, practical invention process.
Understand the leadership mindset for invention
The leader of an organization or community must serve as the catalyst for sparking an innovation mindset throughout a company. This responsibility cannot delegated. It must start from the top.
Successful innovation only comes after many attempts, with simultaneous development initiatives underway, and after failures have been experienced. It is impossible to generate a 100 percent success rate. Leaders must stop obsessing about new product/service failures.
New product capabilities and services take several years to develop and a couple of more years before they become profitable. That’s why a continuous stream of new product and service launches is imperative. Without seamless innovation, which continues consistently over time, one can’t expect innovation results to be positive.
Speed-to-market success at the risk of sacrificing quality will not yield positive long-term results.
The key to new product success is treating it as a key component of business strategy.
Effective invention or innovation is not a creative, unstructured brainstorming activity. It is a multidisciplinary function and a deliberate investment in a company’s future.
Invention or innovation should never be viewed as a cost center. It is a long-term investment.
Top management must accept the uncertainty and inherent risk of new products and services – and utilize a process that examines new insights – and base decisions on experiential rationale.
There is no “black box” or “magic wand”.
Design a stage-gate invention process
Insight has facilitated leaders with modifying and implementing the following stage-gate invention process as developed by Thomas D. Kuczmarski, author of Innovation, Leadership Strategies for the Competitive Edge.
The preface to the following nine stage gates for developing and screening invention ideas and concepts, are having clearly articulated your organization or community’s:
Innovation vision – what you want to become in the future
Innovation blueprint – growth role for new products, financial goals, role of people
Innovation strategy – growth gap to close, role of products, screening criteria
Stage gate 1: Consumer Problems & Needs Exploration
Conduct qualitative research with customers to explore and identify their gripes, complaints, hassles, and problems that they experience in a given category, activity, behavior, or function. These areas provide a focus for idea generation.
Stage gate 2: Problem Solving & Idea Generation
Generate new solutions and creative approaches that address the identified customer problems. An idea is a description of a product/service that details what a product/service does and lists the key benefits that will be provided to customers.
SCREEN 1: Evaluate idea here
Stage gate 3: Concept Development
Take screened ideas and develop them into 3-D descriptions of a product/service. A concept should describe the product/service features and attributes, its intended use, and its primary benefits to be perceived by customers. It outlines the core technologies that will be used and states general technical feasibility. It addresses how the product might be positioned against competition and defines who the primary purchaser will be.
Stage gate 4: Business Analysis
Formulate a market and competitive assessment that projects the potential revenue size and attractiveness of the new product concept. Develop a rough, 3-year pro forma that estimates future financial performance.
SCREEN 2: Evaluate concept here
Stage gate 5: Prototype Development
Complete development of the product and run product-performance and customer-acceptance tests.
Stage gate 6: Production Scale-up
Determine roll-out equipment need and manufacture the product in large enough quantities to identify “bugs” and problems. Run additional product-performance and quality tests.
Stage gate 7: Market Testing
Launch the product into select test markets to gauge potential performance and educate target buyers.
SCREEN 3: Test product/service here
Stage gate 8: Commercialization
Introduce the product and sell it to the trade. Initiate awareness building and trial stimulation programs to reach the targeted customer base.
Stage gate 9: Post-Launch Checkup
Monitor performance of the new product/service at 6 and 12 months after launch and evaluate potential changes or improvements to be made.