Innovation is the process of creating a new product or service that better serves customers and is cheaper out-the-door. In very broad terms, it consist of three main steps:
Invention—conceiving of the novel product or service and demonstrating its feasibility, or that it works—can take years, even decades, and requires daily coping with unknowns. By some estimates, only about 1 in every 100 concepts become feasible inventions.
Development is the process of taking the invention that works in your garage and turning it into a robust, market-ready offering that people will pay for. Not every invention will become a market-ready offering, or is even capable of being carried through the development phase. Maybe 1 in 10 inventions make it that far.
The commercialization phase involves developing the processes and infrastructure for marketing, manufacturing, and delivery. Entrepreneurs in this stage encounter a huge number of challenges in connecting to customers, gaining traction, and scaling their business. This is the stage where companies hit their first growth spurt as new expertise and resources are needed. At best, 1 in 5 market-ready products or services make it through this stage.
So which is hardest?
Whichever phase you're currently in is going to be the hardest. Every step will take longer and present bigger challenges than you imagine. When you've invented something new, and spent weeks or years getting it to just work, it will feel like everything else should be easy. Yet you'll find that the next step will be harder. Just having something that works isn't the same as having something that people can and will use. That doesn't mean you should give up. It means you need to be honest with yourself about where you are, while maintaining the faith that you can achieve your goal.
This ability to get through the hard parts is variously known as grit or the Stockdale Paradox. It's the passion and perseverance for long-term goals; the ability to maintain faith that you will prevail, while having the discipline to face the facts of your current situation, however unpleasant that situation is, and adapt. Researcher Angela Duckworth has a great, short TED Talk on grit.
Posted by Thomas Hopper on Permanent link for The Hard Part of Innovation on January 6, 2023.