How To Be a Successful Innovator

Creativity and innovation traditionally have played an important part in entrepreneurial success. Today, their role has become an even more vital component as businesses face increasing pressure to produce innovations to remain competitive. “Not so long ago,” says one writer, “we could find success in life by simply copying the success of others, by learning what others already knew and applying it. But those days are fading. The kind of unique chal- lenges that were once taken on by only a few brave souls with the courage to cross oceans are now a routine part of life.”

Recognize That “Innovation” Is Not Necessarily Synonymous with “Invention”

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in history actually did not invent the products that made them famous. Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, said, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men be- hind whom were centuries of work.” Of course, Ford did make innovations in the auto assembly process, creating in 1913 the first mass-assembly process that made cars affordable for the av- erage person

Find the Intersection of “Problem” and “Solution”

Some entrepreneurs launch businesses with a focus on marketing their products or services to a particular audience but fail to ask whether their products and services actually solve a real problem that customers face. “If you’re not solving a problem, the world won’t care,” explains Ben Kaufman, founder of Quirky, a social product development company that serves aspiring inventors. Suc- cessful innovators often spot a “pain point” in their own lives and realize that other people face the same problem as well.

Realize That Innovation Typically Is the Resultof an Iterative Feedback Cycle

Innovations often come about when entrepreneurs come up with an idea, test it, discover what works (and what doesn’t work), and then modify their idea based on this feedback. This cycle of developing ideas, testing them, and refining them is an essential part of the creative process. Thomas Edison, recipient of a record 1,093 patents, including the patents for the phonograph and the lightbulb, said, “The real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into 24 hours.”

Beware of Faulty Assumptions

One of the most dangerous assumptions that innovative entrepre- neurs can make is that customers are as excited about their innova- tions as they themselves are. Like Edison, successful innovators see the pathway to entrepreneurship as a series of experiments. One of the most valuable experiments that an entrepreneur can undertake is to get feedback from potential customers. Confirmation of an idea tells an entrepreneur that he or she is on the right track; conversely, lukewarm or negative customer feedback suggests that he or she drop the idea and move to another, more promising one.