Selling Innovation: The Spark (chapter 1)

by Ken Smith

Every innovation is born from a spark of creativity.  The spark can be for an entirely new product concept, refinement of an existing product, or radical re-design of a something that is already in the market. The spark can come from years of experience in a particular industry, a dramatic personal experience, or just creative brilliance.  The one place a spark of innovation cannot come from is a vacuum.

Innovation is a process, a collection of concepts fused together over time, refined and refined again until the optimal set of features delivers just the right value to a customer at a price they are willing and able to pay and which makes profit for the seller.

Serial innovators know that the first spark of innovation, while compelling at the moment, seldom reflects the final product that successfully penetrates the market.  Bringing an innovation to market takes time, focus, resources, and persistence.

There are many great inventors in the world today, but only a few great innovators.

Read More about The Spark …

  • Innovation & Insight
  • Disruptive vs Incremental Innovation
  • Platform vs Product
  • Minimal Viable Market
  • Aspirin vs Vitamin
  • Embedding Viral Marketing into Product Design

image credit: candlewick press

Editor’s note: In this 8-part series, we are serializing Ken’s ‘actionable’ resource guidebook Selling Innovation. We kicked off the series with Selling YOUR Innovation. Please stay tuned for chapters 2-6, and the series finale: Start-up Checklist.

You can download the remainder of the book Selling Innovation using the discount code WD22R (enter in shopping cart after log-in, valid thru 4/31). You can follow on Twitter @sellingInno

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Selling YOUR Innovation Ken Smith, Business Plan Reviewer and Start-up Coach for Springboard Enterprises, served as Co-chair of CEO Service Committee for the MIT Enterprise Forum Cambridge; and is the author of the start-up resource guidebook Selling Innovation

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  1. Well, this one got off to a bad start from the “get-go”. The problem? The analogy used. The whole, “The one place a spark of innovation cannot come from is a vacuum”.

    Now, I don’t know where Ken is going to end up with this, since this is simply the opening salvo of a series, and the listed topics look compelling enough but I’ll tell you right now, he’s got a big problem with this “vacuum” thing that I find troubling. Let’s do it by the numbers, shall we?

    1. The illustration used shows a man on stage with a fairly inaccurate depiction of Telsa doing one of his electrical demonstrations. I often use Tesla as the man that people should pattern their innovation process after and not Edison. However, it was Tesla’s great rival, Edison, who invented the light bulb. And guess what? That light emitting device, which has historically been used to illustrate the spark of a brilliant new idea, operates because that light springs into being inside the *vacuum* of the bulb…

    2. Although I do not use this technique to get new ideas, I fully realize that it does work on a certain level. I’m talking about the transcendental meditation technique of emptying your mind so that a creative spark will emerge. In other words, put your mind in a *vacuum* state. I don’t use it because my mind is more like the Internet – always on and filled with information that I can access at will…

    3. How many innovations have come from Man’s exploration of space? Plenty. Guess what? Yeah, you guessed it – space is a *vacuum*.

    4. Now let’s try on a little quantum mechanics. It is now known by all of us who work in physics that although space is a vacuum, it is teaming with potential energy. In fact, particles pop in and out of it, all the time. One of the claims to fame that Stephen Hawking still has intact is “Hawking radiation”, which is the light emitting from the edge of a black hole caused by a process known as “particle pair separation”. This occurs when two virtual particles emerge from the vacuum of space near the black hole boundary and one is sucked into the black hole’s inescapable gravitational field and the other is just far enough away to escape. Normally, the two particles, which are opposites, would collide into each other and annihilate. It is the escaping particle that causes the “radiation” referenced from the term.

  2. WOW. You certainly struct a nerve with Marshall. I find his tone, and the level of personal attack unacceptable.

  3. Marshall, thank you for your comment. You are 100% correct – the topic is the application of sales and selling techniques for bringing innovations to market. That’s why the title is not ‘The Innovation Process’ or ‘Creating Innovation’, but rather ‘Selling Innovation’. I am sure all of the readers appreciate your writing so many words explaining why you are so upset about what the article and book are NOT about.

    To your comments, I usually don’t but in this case…

    First to introduce computer-assisted instruction into the core curriculum in two school systems.
    Worked with a team on one of the first music video CD-ROMs for the great artist Peter Gabriel
    Worked with a team on the first multi-media corporate training template for Glaxo Pharmaceuticals (in use for 5 years)
    Designed, hand coded and launched the second major auto manufacturer web site (VW.com 1.0 + 2.0)
    First to build an online advertising analytics tool for banner advertising measuring effectiveness (about 2 years before Google launched by the way)
    First to launch a remote control consumer tech support service while building, running for years profitably and then selling the company
    Worked with a team to launch the first automated PC maintenance tool, distributed by a top 10 cable provider to all 25M users
    Designed the first data aggregation platform for measuring distributed renewable energy generation for grid management and control, standards model supported by NIST leadership
    And when I was a young man I also played Div. 1 College Athletics and got a try out for the US Jr. Olympic Team, you?
    There’s more but, you get the point.

    And you must forgive all of those organizations like the MIT Enterprise Forum that have spent decades trying to help budding entrepreneurs by asking other entrepreneurs to coach, advise, and share their experience so the next generation of innovators can learn from your success and failures (of which I have had many and have learned from each) – i.e. to give back.

    Oh, and by the way, I am the first and I believe still the only civilian to earn – that’s f’ing earn jerkoff! – a B Sawyer Certification from the US Forest Service after spending three days in training classes and in the deep woods of NH with 30 of the most dedicated, bone tough, and courageous men and women I have ever had the privilege to sweat with. What does that mean, Mr. precise language? It means that I am licensed by the Federal Government to carry a chainsaw into the woods for trail clearing or to fight forest fires, not just without Forest Service supervision but leading a crew into a fire fight. So if there is a forest fire and I am called to duty I’ll be strapping a chainsaw to my back and hiking INTO the fire. You can check my credentials anytime…maybe you’d like to go for a hike with me someday?

  4. Ken:

    You can only be judged by what people know about you. If you write a piece that starts off like yours did, it’s no one’s fault but your own. My criticism of the analogy was accurate and I explained why. Perhaps next time, instead of being so defensive, you’ll think about what you’re writing first.

    I find it amusing that you felt I was upset when I was simply pointing out major problems that exist within the innovation industry, which your piece reminded me of. Note, they’re problems in the industry – not mine. They’re not costing me any money, time or productivity, because I know better.

    As for your long list of accomplishments, I never said that you hadn’t done anything. I was simply pointing out what it was that you had listed at the time. If you had put in a line about your technical experience, I would have phrased that part differently. I’m not psychic. At the same time, the tone of your comment, in regards to said list, implies that I would be somehow outdone in comparison. That would be an incorrect assumption. However, my bio is online and I have no inclination toward getting into a contest here over who’s done more, between us. I’ll just say that all of mine are “firsts” and “onlys” and spans nearly four decades and over 20 different areas, but alas, none were athletics. But since you brought it up, so you tried out for the Jr. Olympic Team. Did you make it?

    The bottom line is simply this, I criticized your opening. I gave you carte blanche on everything else because it was unclear where you were going with everything, but the bottom line is still this – many things can come from a vacuum. Sometimes, better than from anywhere else…

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