How to Avoid Inventor-Induced Technocide – Part I

We humans might still be living in caves throwing stones at each other to pass the time if it weren’t for inventors’ creative minds. Inventors led us out of those caves. And inventors continue to spark new ideas to improve the human condition through the ages. Despite their success, inventors can be their own worst enemies when it comes to moving their technologies from the lab to the marketplace.

For many inventors, their mindsets can become barriers that “kill” the commercialization of great ideas. We call this phenomenon “technocide.” The result can be problematic for organizations with a mission to convert their inventors’ ideas and technologies into products that people want and need.

An inventor’s mindset is often revealed in what they say. In our work with clients, we hear inventors say things that lead to the early demise of their ideas. We call this phenomenon  “technocide,” and we group these sayings into three broad categories:

  • Extreme optimism: “If I build it, they will come.”
  • Myopia: “All I want to do is cool stuff in the lab. I’m not interested in the commercialization process—that’s not my job.”
  • Perfectionism: “It’s not ready yet. I need more research funding and then it will be ready to show the world!”

In my three-part series, I’ll discuss the mindsets behind these sayings. I’ll explain why these approaches put the inventor – and their organization – at a disadvantage. And I’ll provide tips on how you can help your inventors increase the likelihood of successful commercialization.

In this first of three posts, I address Extreme optimism: “If I build it, they will come.

Two people working on a commercialization project

Understand the inventor’s mindset

Extreme optimism may have worked for Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams”. However, the odds of this approach panning out for anyone in the real world are slim.

We’ve seen individual and corporate innovators become so enamored with their ideas that they don’t stop to ask how, or even if, the world will value those ideas. Inventors who do ask questions related to customer value often face a key hurdle – the scientific and/or academic communities where many inventors work may be isolated from

  • End users who buy and consume these products, and
  • Business communities where the inventions are productized.

This isolation can result in an inventor developing technology or product that the market doesn’t want or need. The inventor’s work then becomes a solution looking for a problem.

How can you help your inventors?

Connect your inventors with people in potential markets and do so early in the technology-development process, including:

  • End users who can help inventors understand unmet needs.
  • End users and prospects who can test early versions and validate the technology’s value proposition.
  • Other value-chain players who are critical for translating the invention into a product, manufacturing that product, and/or selling that product. These players can help the inventor understand how to best position the technology for a successful transition to market.

Connect your inventors to target markets by

  • Collaborating with them to produce a webinar – an inexpensive way to connect with end users and companies. These are great opportunities to test a technology’s value proposition and get real-time audience feedback (e.g. through interactive Q&A sessions).
  • Participating with them in industry trade shows – not the scientific and academic conferences they may typically frequent. Rather, target conferences where potential end users and corporate folks congregate.

Ensure your inventors understand the important questions to ask their target markets, including:

  • Does my invention solve a problem the end user faces?
  • Will my invention meet the consumer’s performance and cost expectations?
  • How might I modify my invention to better meet end-user needs?
  • What activities/equipment/costs might be required for scale up to a commercial product?
  • How important is intellectual property (IP) protection in this market space?
  • How is IP protected in this market space—patent, copyright, trade secret

With over 50 years of experience supporting organizations that fund and develop new technologies, RTI’s Innovation Advisors know the signs of impending “technocide” and how to address them. Watch for part two of my series when I share with you how to engage your inventors in the commercialization process.


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About the author

With an extensive background in water quality and environmental science, Andy Helminger leads our water practice and positions our water-tech clients to successfully move innovative products to market. Andy has over 20 years of industry and technology space experience, ranging from consumer products to aerospace. He’s passionate about empowering researchers and their organizations to move technologies from the lab to the real world. And it’s this passion that helps our clients convert good ideas into valuable commercial products. Andy’s technical areas of expertise are water quality and environmental science. He leverages this expertise to help clients – including major consumer products companies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and NASA – with innovation challenges related to water treatment and analysis. Prior to joining our group, Andy worked in environmental compliance for the N.C. Division of Water Quality. He received his M.E.M. in Environmental Management from Duke University and a B.A. in Biology from St. Olaf College.

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