Real-life challenges of innovators

Resolving the real-life challenges of innovators

Last November, I was an invited keynote speaker and forum panelist at the Kuala Lumpur Innovation Forum 2015. The conference organizers asked me to start the panel discussion with a short presentation on two interesting questions: “What are challenges that innovators face in the real world?” and “What are the fundamentals to overcome these challenges?”

Who are — and are not— innovators?

First, let’s exclude the non-creative majority of business professionals from the creatives minority. But are all creative types also innovators? No, and here is why.

I express the dynamic interrelationship between creativity and innovation as a simple equation: creativity + action = innovation.

Creativity alone doesn’t suffice to arrive at innovation. There are many highly creative people in the world who come up with lots of novel, meaningful, and original ideas but never do anything about them. We call these people dreamers. What is the difference between a dreamer and an innovator? Taking action.

As such, innovators are the creative doers, which includes inventors, designers and creative professionals, grassroots innovators, creative entrepreneurs, technopreneurs, and corporate innovators. In the non-creative majority, there are probably also thousands of innovators who are undiscovered by themselves and others. I once was one of them before I recognized the innovator in me.

So what real-life challenges do innovators face? I can think of three: their mindset, the majority and the money. Let me explain each one further:

(1) Their mindset

Most innovators are highly creative and typically come up with a never-ending stream of ideas. Moreover, they are entrepreneurial risk-takers and are able to spot innovation opportunities and drive change — and innovation means change, means departure from the status quo.

But here’s where this mindset is both an asset and a liability. Most innovators love to move on to a new project before the present one is completed. Innovators are also the best and the worst people to pitch their ideas to key supporters. We love their passion and enthusiasm, but they lose their audience when starting to deep-dive into technicalities. They tend to be perfectionist who never complete an idea activation project because it’s not perfect yet, and dislike delegating work to better qualified professionals.

Resolution: Master innovators are not only creative, but have also executional focus, discipline and persistence. They innovate one project at a time and give an innovation the time it needs to really grow into something meaningful. As the British innovator James Dyson shared, “It is said that to be an overnight success takes years of effort. So it has proved with me.” Likewise, the legendary American Thomas Edison noted: “The three things that are most essential to achievement are common sense, hard work and stick-to-it-iv-ness.”

Moreover, modern innovators should work within a wider team, consisting of a promoter to pitch ideas; designers and other production specialists who support the execution; and an “adult-supervisor” to keep an eye on project completion and profitability.

(2) The majority

According to Everett Rogers’ innovation diffusion theory, the innovators who drive change are just 2.5% of the overall population. They are supported by the early adopters (13.5%) who try out and endorse innovations. If the early adopters create enough buzz, an innovation can cross the chasm to the early majority (34%) and turn into a successful new product, technology, or concept that subsequently reaches the late majority (34%) and eventually the laggards (16%). Do the maths — only 16% of people create and promote change, while 84%  resist change to a lesser or stronger extent. Clearly, the famous US inventor Charles Kettering had a point: “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”

Resolution: Overcome people’s resistance by understanding who is who. This is where my innovation people-profiling method TIPS can help explaining the people-side of innovation and change. Thereby, I link Roger’s adaption curve to our 11 TIPS innovator profiles to better understand who typically creates, endorses, opens up to and resists change.

In TIPS, the innovators are often ideators, who get supported by tech-savvy conceptualizers and flamboyant promoters as early adapters. Partners, all-rounders, theorists, experimenters and coaches together form the early and late majority that eventually convinces the laggards (organizers, technocrats and systematizers) to try the “new thing” that by now has already become a long-established innovation.

TIPS Innovation Adoption

(3) The money

Suppose for a moment you were an innovator like James Dyson, Thomas Edison or Charles Kettering. For years, you have invested time and money in a worthy innovation that has just been released into the market: Do you deserve to monetize this innovation fully and to get fairly paid for years of hard work?

Now let me ask you another question: In the real world, do most innovators make good money, and get a fair compensation for their efforts? Clearly, there is a disconnect between the few well-known innovation heroes celebrated in magazines and books and the many innovators who failed to successfully monetize their innovations.

The latter may have lacked the business savviness of an Edison, who also created viable business models to support his innovations. Or they may have been bullied out by established players with market power who copied the innovation and infringed intellectual property rights (IP).

Resolution: As drivers of meaningful change and progress, innovators deserve to get fairly paid for the fruits of their work, but have a responsibility to create viable business models and to secure and register the IP rights on their innovations, too. Policy makers and judges must do their part also: Innovators should be able to count on effective protection and legal enforcement of their IP rights.

Naturally, the last point is still an issue in many Asian countries. Protecting IP rights of innovators and new ventures will be a crucial acid tests for those countries who want to evolve from agricultural and industrial societies into a modern innovation economy not only by words, but also by deeds.

Contact us if you want to learn more about the TIPS personality test or want to learn more how to acquire the genius mindset of a true innovator.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was originally published in parallel on the Thinkergy Blog ( and in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 18 February 2016.