Visualize an “inventor”. Most likely you’ll see a man tinkering with an object on a counter in a dark room. A few sleight-of-hand movements, a screwdriver twist, and “Eureka!” shouts the inventor – “I’ve got it!” A metaphorical light bulb appears over the inventor’s head (or in the case of Thomas Edison, a real light bulb)…but now what? In the movie Field of Dreams, Ray, played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice that whispers “If you build it, they will come.” If Costner were an inventor, that voice would probably whisper, “If you make it, they will buy.” The myth of the inventor is fairly common, but to anyone who has watched an episode of Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank it is apparent, and visibly disheartening, that sometimes dreams just don’t pan out. So how do you prevent the invention to market roadblock? Not only must you move the invention through the innovation process, but a clearly defined business structure has to be developed to facilitate market success.
“Diagram courtesy of Swave Studios Inc.”
Invention vs. Innovation
Let’s begin by differentiating between invention and innovation. According to Wikipedia an “invention is a unique or novel device, method, composition or process”, while “innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments, and society.” Put another way, an invention may have little economic value but an innovation is designed for market success. Xerox invented the mouse; Apple turned it into an innovative marketable product. Part of the “innovation” definition, is taking a product or service and turning it into a commercial reality. This can be achieved through the design process where research, a thorough understanding of the user, and creativity can take a new idea and cater it specifically to the target user/buyer. The design process can transform an invention by drawing inspiration from several other products and services, or by combining several products and services to create the perfect formula for an innovative product. Typically, this process is grounded within the discipline of industrial design. Google, for example, was not the inventor of the search engine; Gmail was not the first web-based email; and Google Docs was not the first word or spreadsheet processor. But what makes Google’s offerings innovative, are their ease of use, sharing, collaboration, and accessibility. Google has created an ecosystem of products that is seamlessly combined under one web platform. This provides excellent productivity and communication tools as well as free access to all.
Moving Innovation to Market
Product designers and manufacturers have completed the job once a product is designed and produced. As part of the product development chain, however, designing and planning product infrastructure should be done in parallel with the product design and innovation phase. Over the years there have been a lot of orphaned products created. Like the adage it takes a village to raise a child, we are only halfway to a successful business after a product is complete. But what’s next for the newborn product? Having done your due diligence and research as the product was being developed, it’s easy to see where your new product will go and how it will be offered to the public. This also avoids the orphan product syndrome and gives you more control over your future. The infrastructure that you create, which we will call the “corporate hub”, must take into account many aspects, thus paving the way for a successful and long-lasting business.
The Corporate Hub
A quick breakdown of the “corporate hub” behind every successful innovative product shows no innovative product lives in a vacuum. You need to engage experts to help develop your own corporate hub. Marketing, sales, supply chain, administration and, of course, financing, are the main areas to focus on. If there is already an umbrella structure in place i.e. the innovation is happening within an established organization, then less new infrastructure is required. If, however, the company is a start-up, then more work is required. There are many new ways to get a company off the ground; every start-up needs to find the right blend of in-sourced and out-sourced capabilities. Kickstarter, for example, helps new products find funding and an initial buying customer through crowd-funding and social networking. It performs a marketing, retailing and capital-raising function. There are many other resources to launch an innovation. Invention is only a starting point to the marketing success. Innovation is required to make an idea relevant to the customer, and a well-crafted business infrastructure will allow it to thrive. Done properly, with the end-user in mind, moving from invention to innovation to market proves true that “if you build it, they will buy”. (This article was originally published in Design Product News, September 2012)