How to Avoid “Inventor-Induced Technocide” – Part III

In our work helping clients innovate, we’ve heard inventors say things that led to the early demise of their own ideas. We call this “technocide.” And we group these sayings into three broad categories:

In my three-part series, I’ve discussed the mindsets behind these sayings, explain why they put the inventor – and their organizations – at a disadvantage, and provide tips to help your inventors think in ways that increase the likelihood of successful commercialization.  Today, I write of perfectionism, or “It’s not ready yet. I need more research funding and then it will be ready to show the world!”

Image of a women wearing VR goggles

Understand the inventor's mindset

This mindset can spring from several sources:

  • A focus on perfectionism: allowing “the perfect” to become the enemy of “the good enough.”
  • Lack of confidence in the technology: the inventor may not want to put his/her name (or the organization’s name) on something that might not work.
  • Fear of letting someone else “hold the baby”: it’s hard letting your child go into the outside world for the first time. And who can you really trust these days?
  • Fear of someone stealing “the baby.”

Perfectionism can kill a technology.

While the inventor is painstakingly perfecting his/her technology – or waiting for more funding – someone else is developing a competing technology and/or a workaround. Alexander Graham Bell almost lost his spot in history as the inventor of the telephone. This is because Elisha Gray was also working to develop the technology. We know Bell as the father of the telephone because he reportedly filed his patent application only hours before Gray. Inventors shouldn’t fool themselves. Their ideas may be great, but it’s likely someone else is working on a similar solution.

With significant delays in technology development, market opportunities can also evaporate. An inventor whose “new” rotary-phone technology is ready for the world in 2019 will be disappointed in how the market receives the technology. Funders will also be disappointed, as they likely wasted money on a “new” technology that took so long to develop that it’s irrelevant.

How you can help

Connect your inventors with potential commercialization partners.

This allows your investor to understand what a licensee sees as critical development needs. These conversations can help inventors think about “must-haves” versus “nice to haves” from a partner’s perspective. Maybe the inventors don’t need as much additional research funding as they think to position their technology for licensing and/or transfer to the real world.

Encourage your inventors to drive to a working prototype as quickly as possible.

The prototype doesn’t have to be perfect, just properly validated. The goal is to demonstrate to potential licensees and/or end-users that the technology really works.

Give your inventors confidence that their ideas are protected.

Communicate tools/processes that your organization uses to protect its intellectual property (e.g., patent filings, non-disclosing agreements with commercialization partners, copyrights, etc.).  Educate your inventors on how to communicate the value proposition of their technology while not disclosing proprietary information.

Connect your inventors with colleagues in the organization who have gone through the commercialization process. These conversations will allay fears that “their baby” will be stolen.

Explain first-to-market business concepts with your inventors.

Explain how they could get “leap-frogged” by competing technologies under development. If possible, show your inventors examples of emerging technologies that could create competition for them. You might also show your inventors market-opportunity data that reinforces the concept that their invention likely has a shelf life.

With over 50 years of experience working with organizations that fund and develop new technologies, we know the signs of impending “technocides” and how to address them. Contact us when you need to assess, design, and/or implement an in-reach program for your inventors.

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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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