Maybe you are thinking: “Why can’t we just cut through all of this background stuff and just go ahead, invent something and get rich?”
Thomas Edison definitely got rich from inventing the lightbulb, but his investors and employer got even richer. Maybe you’ve heard the the company that made its name from Edison’s inventions – General Electric? His investors included the Vanderbilts and J.P. Morgan.
Together they created the electricity industry from nothing, so as to support the sale of light bulbs. Before there was anything to sell, Edison needed to test 10,000 different filament materials before settling on tungsten. These activities are not consistent with inventing something and waiting to get rich. The nearest scenario offered nowadays is to produce a useful Internet technology and wait for a rich multinational to buy out your company in order to secure your intellectual property for their portfolio. Such companies have been acquiring proven winning ideas instead of participating in costly (and risky) research and development for many years. However, your idea needs to be commercialised and proven before your company is a takeover target. Developing and commercialising a new product is an expensive and highly multi-disciplinary undertaking – you need to tap a huge variety of skills and expertise and have great grit and staying power to be successful.
Apart from a few special human beings such as Albert Einstein, great ideas need a context. Even Einstein had spent many years in daily contact with great new ideas in the patent office before envisioning relativity. In your case, your innovation should have a context – a place it will fit in. It should improve a specific situation. Consequently you must be intimately knowledgeable of such a situation, so you can suggest a relevant innovation. Often such innovations come about from cross-disciplinary work. You must be in many situations or must have the benefits of many close collaborators in many disciplines. Such contacts will come in handy for the development and commercialisation phases. You need to ‘keep in touch’ with skilled and highly competent people routinely, establishing a degree of trust from collaboration.
Innovation is all about culture, context and a readiness to try new things. It may also be that the iceberg your company has been sitting on has broken free and is drifting and melting under you – it usually takes a sense of urgency to focus the mind on innovation!