This series of blogs focuses on ways to pump up your innovation pipeline. It’s not very insightful to point out that your innovation pipeline depends on the ability of your inventors. But surprisingly, the bottleneck is not usually their ability to invent things – it’s their ability to communicate what they’ve invented.
In this new “first to file” paradigm in the U.S., having your inventors just put a note in their lab notebooks will not protect you. You need to incentivize submission of actionable invention disclosures to decision-makers before your competitor, or someone in the value stream, thinks of the invention and files first.
Inventors don’t just wake up one day out of ideas. If the number of invention disclosures in your organization is dropping, your inventors have subconsciously made a value judgment about the time spent writing up their ideas. Role requirements pull inventors in a variety of directions: they travel; they attend conferences; they interact with customers. Realize though, that inventors prioritize focus on their perception of what’s important. So, accept that your inventors’ actions reflect some message your organization is sending.
Here’s five things you can do to improve the situation right away:
(1) Be transparent: Implement a clear work process for how invention disclosures will be taken in, evaluated, and acted upon. Similarly, promptly communicate a go/no-go decision back to the inventor. It’s surprisingly common for submitted invention disclosures to disappear into a “black hole,” where the inventor has to either push for answers or draw assumptions.
(2) Keep it simple: Make it clear that you only want enough information to evaluate the fit with business goals, and perhaps demonstrate technical feasibility. There are ample reasons to discourage a major time investment by an inventor in this early assessment stage.
(3) Reward successful tries: It is critical that you reward/acknowledge your inventors for their activity (submitting relevant invention disclosures), not the value of the ideas themselves. For example, the old standby of waiting until an invention launches commercially before rewarding an inventor is both far too slow to effect change in your organization, and subject to too many factors outside an inventor’s control to be a sufficient motivator.
(4) Track the number of disclosures: The old saying that “you get what you count” applies. If your inventors know that you are counting invention disclosures, it shows you place value on innovation capture, and that by itself may result in positive change.
(5) Sponsor brown bag lunches: Getting inventors together in a room can spark some great technical conversations and lead to creative new solutions. It’s also a good time to update the entire team on progress, or refine definitions of what you’re looking for and why. These types of events are a great forum for highlighting individual or team efforts in front of peers as well.
These five tips may be all you need to become aware of more new ideas. If not, in the next blog, we’ll discuss pumping up your innovation pipeline by collaboration with external partners.