Invention is the Daughter of Necessity

Let's be honest. People need a reason to change. They need a compelling, feel-it-in-my-bones reason to make meaningful change. This is true in life and in business. And innovation and invention is all about change. So if necessity is the mother of invention, then invention is the daughter of necessity.

It's so often forgotten that the first thing in the game of great innovation is necessity. Something that you simply can't ignore. A reason to move, react, enact, proact. A reason to say "this just isn't working any more and we MUST change." An innovation program serves no purpose without the necessity. And for innovation to transcend a culture--for an innovation program to be truly successful--you need a compelling reason to change.

I work with a lot of organizations on innovation programs and innovative culture, and so many of them come to me with the statement "we need to be more innovative." But why? What is the compelling "why"? The answer shouldn't be "because really wants a more innovative culture." Ok, but why? Are you facing a $30 M shortfall next year? Have you had public scandals that require you to think differently? Are your customers flocking away? Are you six months from closing the doors? 

Each one of these is a real example from organizations I've worked with that successfully injected innovation into the life-blood of its culture-for a time. Some were able to mother it and sustain the culture of innovation. Some were not. So even if you do have necessity, invention and innovation are hard to mother. 

Consider this: according to Stephen Key, who specializes in the study of patents and inventions, 97% of all patents never make money. Not 50%. 97%. Not to say that these inventions serve no purpose, but there is no direct market that is willing to pay for them. These are examples of well-intentioned inventions with no market to buy. Necessity didn't require these patents--in essence, mother was forgotten. A chin-dimple creator. A combination baby stroller and scooter. A necktie that you can drink out of. A ping pong door. A baby mop (yes, turn your baby into a mop). No joke. These orphaned ideas forgot necessity. Cute? Yes. Fun? Yes. Necessary? No. Money makers? No.

And yes, occasionally we get a pet rock or a pair of MC Hammer pants that defies all logic, but for the most part, truly wild success comes with clear necessity. Necessity nurtures our needs, guides us and keeps us focused on what truly matters. Necessity cares about invention, grounds us when we get lazy, reminds us its okay to be afraid, but its not okay to not act, and compels us to excel in all we do. And great invention is sometimes her reward. Sure the innovations don't always work out, but without necessity, the best ideas and the best intentions can't create the best inventions.

So before you attempt to invent a product, patent a process, or create an innovation program, be sure to shine a light on the compelling "why". It may not guarantee your success, and you may be successful without it, but it certainly nurtures your growth and gives your program the best chance to succeed.

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