Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to be an innovator

Not much guidance is out there for how to become an innovator. Sure there's lots on how to be an entrepreneur, an inventor, or a leader. But if you want to be an innovator, here is a how-to tip.

I heard two very interesting innovators speak last week at Eric von Hippel's Innovation Lab. One was Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot. The other was Eric Jackson of Jackson Kayak. Von Hippel would call both of these innovators "user manufacturers". This is because they are practitioners in their field and entrepreneurs who have created companies to provide products to other practitioners in their field.

Both men talked about their passion for their field. Eric was an avid kayaker who entered and won all kinds of kayaking contests. Bre loved 3D printers and was fascinated by the idea of 3D printers that could print our 3D components needed to build other 3D printers.

At some point, both men realized they could spend even more time kayaking and building 3D printers if they could create and sell products necessary to kayak and build 3D printers, respectively. It was this critical realization that enabled both Eric and Bre to devote their lives to their passion.

So the lesson to those of us who would like to innovate is: find out what you're passionate about it. Then figure out what products and services you can develop to sell to other practitioners of your craft. But in the spirit of user-innovation, you also have to be careful not to become too much of a manufacturer and not enough of a user. Eric Jackson says that he practices kayaking every single day with his lead user buddies. He competes in all kinds of kayaking competitions. He said if he lost a day of practicing, he'd lose his edge as an inventor for his customers.

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