If you were to categorize scientists/engineers as the innovative-visionaries versus the conservative-realists, then I would be in the innovator category. I have often dreamed of delivering a ground-breaking, awe-inspiring Ted Talk. Who knows? Maybe that dream will come to pass one day.
Do you know that there is a difference between an inventor and an innovator? Few scientists/engineers are both. An inventor creates a new technology/device/drug/process, and she patents it. She invents this new entity, challenges the state-of-the-art, and goes to bed feeling like Alberta Einstein. (Yes, I made Albert’s name effeminate). But, the inventor has no business savvy. To prevent the invention from only living on paper, she will (1) sell the intellectual property to a larger, more established company OR (2) partner with an entrepreneur and spinoff a new company in hopes that her technology gets commercialized OR (3) let her invention ‘die’ in the patent world, never to be heard of by you or me.
An innovator, on the other hand, improves existing designs, develops and commercializes a new technology/device/drug/process. When that new technology is marketed, the world says “Ahh, why didn’t I think of that?”
I’ll give you a great example. Have you heard of Elias Howe? Hmm. Probably not.
Have you heard of Isaac Singer? Hmm. Not sure? How about Singer Sewing Machines.
Howe’s patent for the first sewing machine was issued in 1846, but he couldn’t get investors interested in his design. Singer improved on the design and filed a patent in 1851, and he tirelessly pursued the commercialization of his design. Howe was the inventor, and Singer was the innovator. One hundred years later and Singer’s name is still synonymous with sewing machines.
Some scientists/engineers, however, can be both inventor and innovator. Just think of the Wright Brothers and the invention/innovation of the airplane ;).
I think I am more of an innovator than an inventor, but so far I have only proved that I am an inventor. I am a proud patent holder; my first of three patents was filed in 2011. And, I did explore my innovative side by founding a startup – but I opted for an industry position where I had more financial stability. And, my innovator bug is itching to “buss’ out”.