An article in the NYT a few days ago featured a young woman who managed to “invent” a prosthetic limb that would reduce phantom limb pain in amputees.
The story is great for many reasons. But my focus here is on the fact that this woman is not really an “inventor.” Instead, she is an “innovation producer” as that term and concept are developed in my forthcoming book Methodology: Art, Science, Technology, Law, and the Means of Innovation. In many ways I place greater importance on the role of the innovation producer than the pure inventor. Why? Because the innovation producer is able to bring together all the resources needed to take a cool idea or vision all the way to something that can be produced at a cost that makes it reasonably accessible to the market. In large part, this is because they are focused on the functional end they seek and not just cool technological means to get there. Technologically trained or focused inventors can get wedded to the technology they produce–including aesthetic ideals of “elegant” engineering solutions. I have nothing against the latter per se. But it can often blind the pure inventor to the realities of production, distribution, and the marketplace. In countless examples, the market has chosen the less elegant, but often cheaper or easier to use, version of two competing technological solutions to a given functional need/desire. VHS vs. Betamax is often given as a prime example of this. And this example makes another great point: no technology/invention is forever! So focusing on achieving the functionality at a reasonable price point in the market sooner rather than later is the goal–and value–of the innovation producer.