[This blog post originally appeared in LinkedIn's Big Ideas and Innovation Channel on August 18, 2015.]
"What is innovation? It is simply the process of producing something new and unique," writes Jack V. Matson in Innovate or Die! "Creativity is the talent you use to generate the ideas needed for innovation, which are explored and tested."
Matson even has a mathematical equation for innovation:
CREATIVE IDEAS + EXPERIMENTATION = INNOVATION
I recently spent some time with BOLDFACE CEO Randy Fenton to talk innovation. Fenton and BOLDFACE are credited with bringing the most significant innovation to-date to the $2 billion U.S. backpack industry.
Do you agree with Matson's simplistic equation for innovation?
I definitely agree. The interesting thing is that most people think that innovation requires only creative ideas. What people did not see before the iPhone launched was the thousands of failed attempts at getting every aspect of the iPhone just right before its launch. Without the thousands of hours of experimentation the iPhone would have been a complete disaster. Name any other significant innovation and you will find the same - lots of experimenting and testing of the idea.
People see the idea in the launch of the product and believe that all it takes is a great idea. In reality, the idea is the easy part. Innovators must stick with it - even after 100 or 1,000 failed attempts. As an innovator and inventor you have to have thick skin and real belief in yourself and your idea - even as the clock ticks and the money runs out.
You have to be disciplined to quickly perform a post-mortem after a failure to try again with new information. That's where my electrical engineering degree and prior work in the aerospace industry has really paid off.
Is there a time to call it quits on an idea?
That's a real tough question to answer. I can only answer for myself. In my case I have had ideas that did not come to fruition. In some cases the timing was not right in the marketplace. Other times I could not create the product as I imagined it. While I may stop actively working on an idea I don't abandon it. The project just goes onto the back burner. Sometimes a little break helps the idea. Time away gets my thinking to freshen up and allows me to view the project from a new perspective.
What is an idea that did not work out?
I was being completely serious about never fully giving up on an idea. For that reason I prefer not to give anything away. Trust me. It has happened more than once. Some day I may bring those ideas back if the timing is right or if I come up with a solution for the sticking point.
Is is hard to come up with ideas?
It's not hard for me. Since I was a little kid I have been coming up with inventions and solutions for everyday problems. I have trained myself to see the world as a problem solver. I am consistently asking myself, "Can that be done better?"
But I know that I am no more special than the next person when it comes to innovating. I've just been doing it so long it has become a habit. For that reason I constantly make my kids aware of the world around them and ask them to question things. Society should not settle. Society should improve with every mistake. We need to teach our kids to look for things in their lives that can be made better and we need to encourage them to do what they can to get at the solution.
Why are people making such a fuss over BOLDFACE?
Remember when silk-screening t-shirts first arrived on the scene? And before that, having cool graphics on t-shirts didn’t really exist?
All of a sudden, t-shirts with cool graphics became popular and now it is simply the norm. Now you can’t imagine life without lots of different t-shirts for every occasion, team, company or just for fun.
How many t-shirts do you have that are totally thrashed but you refuse to get rid of because they are too special? I have so many that my wife thinks I’m crazy.
BOLDFACE products are the next evolution of this… it’s the new t-shirt. BOLDFACE has taken something that you use most every day [backpacks], that you wear and until now you just accepted them as they were… pre-made and boring.
This is why everyone who sees the BOLDFACE backpack loves it so much… just like they loved the first graphical t-shirt they ever saw, and all of the cool t-shirts that meant something to them that they collected and saved throughout the years.
It touches the same place in their hearts and minds… something so simple yet so new. And so cool. A new way to show off their unique style, just like the t-shirts they love.
What is your goal for BOLDFACE?
My goal for BOLDFACE is to make the term BOLDFACE synonymous with the customization of any product. Just like "Google" became synonymous with using a search engine, I want BOLDFACE to mean customization and self-expression.
Technology and the Internet has for years allowed news to be customized to taste. Companies like Pandora provide customized radio stations. Three-dimensional printers allow customized stuff. It's time backpacks were made to fully express personal preferences and tastes. That's my goal for BOLDFACE.