Often, innovations aren’t as electrifying as Thomas Edison’s light bulb or as likely to stir up a discussion as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Yet even the smallest of inventions can leave a widespread ripple effect.
Consider Margaret E. Knight’s 19th-century contribution to the world. It might seem humble, but it has affected society’s ability to conveniently transport goods for nearly 150 years.
What was Knight’s innovative brainstorm? It was none other than what we call the flat-bottomed paper bag.
The point is that you don’t have to be a Steve Jobs or Sir Isaac Newton to be a forward-leaning pioneer and make a difference. So in honor of National Inventors Month, I’ve asked six thought leaders to share their insights, tips, and ruminations about innovating.
I encourage you to use their wisdom springboard for your own ideas, no matter how modest. After all, sometimes the most basic of concepts can impact the world more than you might imagine.
1. Mind the Gaps: Amanda Dixon, cofounder and CEO of Barney
Crazy. That’s what people called Amanda Dixon when she decided to launch a mergers and acquisitions firm that only worked with digital agencies. However, she was determined to fill the glaring gaps in the M&A landscape she experienced when attempting to sell a past digital agency business.
Unmoved by the naysayers who said her market was too small and she’d never succeed, Dixon kept pushing and disrupting. All the while, she led with an empathetic attitude that put relationships first. “I knew there were sellers who needed my help,” she recalls. “Empathy became my business’s superpower as I built systems and processes designed to give underdogs — the digital agency founders who were lost in the maze of an analog M&A space — the exits they deserved.”
Dixon’s determination, hours of cold calling, and never-say-never spirit have produced serious fruit. Today, she runs the largest acquisition firm for agencies in the United States. With a network of 25,000+ potential buyers, she has guided more than 150 companies through acquisitions. And it all started because she identified a gap and set out to close it.
2. Choose the Right Partners: Brett Hyman, president, CEO, and founder of NVE Experience Agency
Although big-name inventors get all the praise, many wouldn’t have been able to innovate without help. Brett Hyman knows this well. That’s why he advises all innovators to invest in great people.
Hyman explains that “being a CEO is surrounding yourself with the people that unlock the best in you. A great person — while they might cost more — has an exponential multiplier that will return an enormous amount of value. A great person can help you grow your business horizontally and vertically.”
Over his career, Hyman says his philosophy of constant improvement and reinvention couldn’t have paid off if he hadn’t invested in others. This includes bringing in experts in areas like content, PR, brand partnerships, influencer marketing, and social media strategy to build fully integrated marketing experiences for his company’s clients. So don’t think you have to take your journey alone. Surround yourself with a thoughtfully assembled team who is as ready to create as you are.
3. Break Free From Needless Customs: Andy Davidson, president of Andrew Davidson & Co., Inc.
Innovation isn’t limited to physical creations. Take Andy Davidson’s company. There, traditional concepts of supervision have been flipped. Rather than having managers to guide the 50-employee workforce, Davidson has implemented a streamlined method of self-governance that has served his staff well.
Davidson explains how his workflow is set up and why it has produced excellent outcomes. “People are organized into functional teams and are elected to councils to coordinate the work between teams,” he says. “Functioning without managers means that decisions and innovations are based on ideas and influence rather than coercive authority. Eliminating the managerial power dynamic makes day-to-day work more enjoyable.”
From Davidson’s perspective, this multidimensional, person-to-person-based dimensional structure encourages everyone to collaborate and help. In other words, it’s one of those “hidden” inventions that has important ramifications for the workers and customers it affects. It also represents a core belief that Davidson holds dear: “Break a habit a day.”
4. Rethink the Ordinary: Saagar Govil, CEO at Cemtrex
Most items we use on a regular basis work just fine, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. As Saagar Govil notes, his team constantly innovates to solve everyday challenges. Govil sees this as a great way to practice problem-solving and spark the imagination.
An example of Govil’s principle in action is his brand’s SmartDesk product line. “Generations of workers have evolved and shifted in terms of their needs and productivity, but the average desk hasn’t undergone significant changes in centuries,” Govil explains. This line of thinking produced the impetus for the SmartDesk and its fully integrated technical assets. “Technology has become an integral part of our work at every level for both complex tasks and simple connectivity; and yet, these updates have only been inelegantly layered onto offices in messes of wires and components.”
Don’t expect all solutions to come immediately, though. You can expect to follow a pattern of constant evolution as your iterations continue to build upon themselves.
5. Give Yourself Freedom to Fail: Isaac Kunkel, senior vice president of consulting services at Chainyard
In the world of rapid-paced technology, failure has a different connotation than it does in other contexts. A series of fails may be necessary to get to one win.
Isaac Kunkel’s background in dealing with emerging blockchain technologies has given him tremendous insight into the value of failing. “Not all innovations are successful, but you will learn from your failures, improving future ideas,” he advises. “Embrace the phrase ‘fail fast’ as it encourages incremental development and testing (agile philosophy) so you can learn and improve quickly.”
It can be hard to embrace what feels like a loss at first. By treating failed attempts as lessons to fill your knowledge gaps and advance your mastery, you’ll learn to see them from an objective perspective. That way, you’ll stay motivated, fulfilled, and encouraged.
6. Infuse Tech Into Untapped Industries: Lu Zhang, founder and CEO of Fusion Fund
It might seem like technologies like AI have already been brought into every sector, but that’s not always the case. Lu Zhang recommends looking at technology from all perspectives to find ways to bring existing innovations into untried areas.
Zhang believes that out-of-the-box thinking can harness the power of technology in far more ways than we can imagine. Your role as an innovator is to seek out pain points to solve. “Try to choose the industry that probably did not get a chance to apply the new technology yet,” she suggests. For example, Zhang invests in deep-tech applications for healthcare. “I’m definitely super-passionate about innovation in healthcare. I have a couple of companies [applying AI] to understand allergy disease, mental disease, and aging.”
Remember that frontier technologies like VR, AR, and everything in between haven’t saturated all markets fully. Your innovative mindset could solve issues — and maybe change the world.
Most of us don’t give ourselves enough credit as innovators. This May, engage your innovative side. Who knows? Your brainchild might become as much a part of existence as, say, a brown paper bag.