My children had such great ideas. They were so good that I thought they would grow up to be famous inventors. My one son dreamed of inventing the perfect time machine, one that would whisk him briefly back to 1975 so he could buy Microsoft stock 11 years before it went public. My other son wanted to create the world’s first invisible windshield wiper, which, by the way, is a real product these days. And here I hoped they would grow up to be professional ball players. Sadly they learned that just saying something did not make it so.
Through their groundbreaking work as children, I can make an important distinction here. The time machine would be an invention. The windshield wipers, in contrast, would be an innovation. Often we use these words interchangeably but since part of my job here is to educate as well as entertain you, I thought we should visit this important difference.
Inventions are the creation of something entirely new. Innovation is the continued improvement of an invention. Neither have any more value than a child’s bright idea without an entrepreneur to pursue them and bring them to life. In an episode of the Twilight Zone many years ago, an inventor locks himself in his laboratory to focus on new ideas. After many years, he comes out to share his ideas (TV, computers, etc.) with mankind, only to learn that while he was isolated, entrepreneurs had already manufactured the same inventions and were selling them to consumers.
That episode was a lot scarier when I was watching it when I was 8 years old. But the point is that just coming up with an idea, does not create sales or jobs. Only entrepreneurs can do that. Entrepreneurs go beyond the laboratory and manage to do the magic of taking an invention or innovation and wrapping a business model around it. Almost everything we touch daily was first invented and then innovated to create value in our lives.
Being an innoventor (a word I just invented) is easy when compared to being the entrepreneur. Whoever said, “If you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door” never had an idea for a better mousetrap. If so, then that person would have had to wait in line behind 4,400 other patents at the U.S. Patent Office for better versions of a mousetrap. According to David Burkus, author of the Myths of Creativity, only 20 designs have ever been developed into a commercially viable mousetrap and the one still most used is the one that was designed in 1899.
It’s not easy to get a new product to market. Ask people what they think of your idea and you will usually hear the words, “it’s a good idea but ________.” Suggest a new idea at the office and you are likely to be stuck on a committee for the next six months being judged by it.
Fortunately, when it comes to new ideas Washington State more often than not says “that’s a good idea.” No buts or howevers! One reason is because we provide technical assistance throughout the state to people who have good ideas. In addition to our award-winning startup.choosewashingtonstate.com website that provides virtual technical assistance, we also have organizations like Startup Spokane and the Northwest Innovation Resource Center.
Startup Spokane facilitates mentorship opportunities for innoventors on the east side of the state while the Northwest Innovation Resource Center brings Washingtonian products and business ideas to life. Throughout the state, economic development professionals are finding a number of ways to help “innoventors” by creating hubs and ecosystems that mix networking, coffee and commiseration and turn them into life-changing products.
November marks the beginning of Global Entrepreneurship Month in Washington State. It’s a time where we celebrate our inventors and innovators past, present and future. Washington’s residents, businesses and entrepreneurs have changed the world we live in, bringing fresh ideas to market that have captured our imaginations, improved our environment, reshaped entire industries, rekindled our hopes and every so often, changed the course of civilization with something so new and so bold, that it became a disruptive product or service. We’re extremely proud of this role we have played in making the world a better place through our innovations, our ideas and the pioneer spirit that has created legendary businesses and enduring products and services for more than a century.
Travel through our Washington timeline to discover that we are more than airplanes, coffee and software. Where would the world be today if Washington innoventors never introduced to the world backpacks, bass guitars and disposable diapers? There would be more back pain for students and hikers, no rock and roll from the 60’s, and more screaming babies wanting to be changed. All of these things were invented and originally made in Washington. Take a trip in the future by attending some of the incredible events in your area during Global Entrepreneurship Month (we just couldn’t fit it all in a week this time) that may yield to new innoventions by the next generation.
Inventing makes humans incredible; innovation drives economic growth. They both require technical assistance, business architects and inspiration. The prophetic science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I still believe both my sons will one day combine their magical skills and become inventrepreneurs and I can say, “I knew them when they were just an inventor…”