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7 Common Pitfalls of Innovators

We often hear the word innovation with different names. Some are called inclusive innovation and others sustainable innovation. There are also grassroots innovation, frugal innovation, transformation innovation, social innovation or even open innovation. Why bother to categorize so many types of innovation if we knew it is the innovators that matter most? Innovators are people who can develop and apply novel solutions to solve intended problems. Without innovators, innovation can never exist.

Throughout my career with Malaysian Innovation Foundation, I’ve met many innovators, listen to different success stories and also hear complaints about each insufficiency. I found those who always lament on insufficiency are mostly yet to achieve success and they do share similar traits. In this article, I would like to share with you my personal opinion on why innovators fail.

Unwilling to Share Ideas

Many great ideas will often be kept as idea forever as people are not willing to share, worrying others might copy. This is so silly. You lose the opportunity to validate your idea if you are not sharing with the right people. If you are one of them, think twice. Do you really think others will stop all the things they are doing and start investing in market research, building a team, developing a killer product and commercialize it before you? In this world, there is no shortage of idea, just shortage of great execution. So stop worrying your ideas will be copied, instead find all resources you can to make things work in the shortest time. If you are serious about success, then share more.

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Lack of Commercial Insights

Innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into goods or services that create value or for which customers will pay. But many innovators that I met simply fulfill one part of the definition. Most fail to acknowledge the importance of the 2nd part – “creating value for which customers will pay”. Instead, they choose to focus on short term goal to build product and ignore the need to conduct comprehensive research or test enough validations to effectively match its value. A true innovation must be able to create value for its intended market, and the market must be significant enough to create wealth for the innovator. Without meeting both, success will be a longer journey.

In one of the program namely “Mainstreaming Grassroots Innovation” organised by Malaysia Innovation Foundation, the core activity is to engage industry professionals to coach local grassroots innovators about the importance of value creation. One notable success is transforming value of the product “Muamalat Interactive Game” from B2B model to B2C. This innovation that received grant from Malaysia Innovation Foundation were successfully commercialised and generated income within the first year of production.

Intellectual Property Registration is the Ultimatum

Many people innovate with the intention to get their product registered for intellectual property, hoping some investors will pick up their idea and pay for it. You can easily get around with this model 20 years ago, but with increase accessibility of knowledge, idea circumvention can happen anytime. While you hold tightly to your patent, someone from the other side of the world might have already circumvent it and commercialize alternative or better solution. If you still think getting your idea protected is the ultimatum, I would advise you to think twice.

Lack of Speed

Many innovations can be easily copied. It is how fast you can bring your product into the market that is critical. I’ve met many innovators who understand the importance of speed but most choose to ignore. Innovation is a long journey and people who just started are mostly not doing it on a full time basis. They need a full time job to sustain financially and can only use extra time to innovate. But this should not be an excuse for not moving fast enough to compete.

Being an innovator, one has to constantly solve problem as and when they see one. The problem of having insufficient time to efficiently build a product must be solved to truly live up the name of an innovator. If I am the innovator, I would have collaborate with skillful partner to speed up my innovation success …. it is just a matter of “Are you willing to share your success with others?”.

Obsessively Trapped in Own Idea

Many innovators fail to accurately identify novelty of their innovation. They may have missed this important element due to obsessively immerse to prototype individual idea. Without knowingly, they allow bias to creep in. When we mention novelty, it must be significant enough to construed a “differentiation with higher value” when compare with existing solutions. But innovators at time can be very protective of their own idea and any advice by outsiders will fell on deaf ears. By the time they realized their obsession, the solution offered might not be novel, neither relevant anymore. This is a grave pitfall need to be avoided by all innovators.

Failed to Continuous Innovate

Turning your idea into product is the first step towards commercialization success. But how to continuously innovate in every stage of commercialization is something many innovators fail to think ahead. Most of them are so focus to produce their product and often neglect the fundamental of commercialization – the MARKET and its changes. When innovator upgraded their role to become entrepreneur, various challenges will arise. The most common is mismatch of product-market fit due to unforseen changes. When this happen, all the lovely success stories start to fall apart as the need to innovate becomes greater. There is obvious lack of innovators who can think ahead and be prepared for continuous innovation. Innovating is already a continuous process, there is no way one can stop once started.

Attitude is Critical 

To me, innovator is a person who produce novel solution that can solve problem at the same time adds value to a significant number of people.  Throughout the journey, there are bound to have problems everywhere. Do you sit on the problem, avoid it entirely and just focus to complete innovating the original idea? Or you will try your best to solve each problem that hinders commercialization success when it arises?

Many innovators complaint about lack of resources (the most common is financing) again and again. But how many actually take own initiative to continuous source for resources? Well, money is everywhere… if your innovation is good enough, then I am sure there are lots of investors queuing to pay you. But if there’s none, either you are not putting enough effort towards commercialization or your innovation is neither novel nor effective enough to solve intended problem, or maybe is your attitude to wait for help that causes the failure.

Successful Innovators Care Less About Innovating

Successful innovators do not care about innovating. What matters to them is to solve interesting and important problem where innovation is just a by product. Focusing solely on innovating is actually a self-centered motive. Hardly you can see innovator succeed with this kind of intention.

To all innovators out there, hope you will stop for a while and analyse at which state of mind you are in now. If you see yourself strayed from the real intention to solve problem by applying novel solution, then it is never too late to pull yoursef back to the right track. Once managed to do this, success will simply be a few steps nearer.

 

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