Innovators: Who are they?

August 8th, 2017

In the first post of this series on innovation our guest blogger, Dr. Michael Murray, addressed the question: Innovation: What is It Really? This month, Dr. Murray’s post examines who the innovators are. The answer is more than you would expect.

Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Thomas Edison, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Spencer Silver and Art Fry. Household names, right? Wait, who are Spencer Silver and Art Fry, you ask? They are two of the innovators who brought the 3M Post It® notes to life. They and teams of chemists, engineers, managers, marketers, sales reps, and many others. Spencer Silver is the chemist who accidentally created a weak, pressure sensitive adhesive agent called acrylate copolymer microspheres, instead of a super strong adhesive for use in the aerospace industry for which he was aiming. At the time, it was pretty much a dud.  But Silver didn’t bury his “mistake”, as too often can happen. He mentioned his finding to others in 3M, and one use that was considered was to apply the adhesive to a bulletin board where you could attach notes. Art Fry had the idea to do the reverse: apply the adhesive to the note and stick it anywhere! Of course, many individuals were integrally involved in taking this concept from an interesting idea to a commercial success, including managers who persistently championed the idea to skeptics within the organization. That’s often how innovation happens, and it requires individuals with intelligence, curiosity, vision, courage, focus, determination, and excellent communication skills. Do you know someone like that? Maybe, but the point is, many people have some of those skills, but few possess them all. That’s why it takes several people with diverse skill sets to innovate, from creating an idea (even a “mistake”), morphing the idea into a possible solution, championing the potential solution (often in spite of strong institutional resistance), developing and scaling the solution into a product, and bringing the product to market.


The visionaries with whom we associate transformative innovations all have relied on many people to help make their vision visible. The innovation journey, which spans the search for opportunities to delivering a solution to users, can be seen to comprise five stages:1

  1. Searching: Looking for challenges and opportunities and generating ideas for solutions.
  2. Exploring: Developing possible solutions and testing key components needed for the solution to work. This includes testing prototypes with potential users of the solution.
  3. Committing: Making the pitch and having a sponsor to champion your solution and commit resources.
  4. Realizing: This is the implementation phase of innovation, turning the solution into a product, service, or way of doing things. It includes project management, AGILE methods, manufacturing, legal support, regulatory compliance, go-to-market strategy, and marketing and sales execution.
  5. Optimizing: This includes celebrating the contributors, extracting key lessons from the innovation effort (especially failures), and continuing to add value to the innovation by adding users, creating platforms, developing new indications, applying new processes more widely, and increasing profit margins.

People tend to have a predilection for certain stages, based on their personality type, skills, and experience. In The Ten Face of Innovation, Tom Kelley describes ten archetypes of personal characteristics that contribute to the “secret sauce” of innovation. Understanding your attributes and what motivates you for how you work can guide you to the phases of innovation where you can contribute.  None of us has to do it all, and all of us can participate in innovation.

This post was written by Mike Murray, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, CPC. Dr. Murray is an innovation expert and a guest blogger on our site. He is a veterinarian, and serves as a Technical Marketing Director for Boehringer Ingelheim’s Animal Health division. He is a life and leadership coach, as well as a certified trainer for Managing Innovation™ with his organization. Dr. Murray coaches individuals and teams to help them be even more successful innovators.


1. From Managing Innovation™, Driving Ideas from Strategic Initiative to Value Creation. Barnes and Conti Associates, David Francis PhD.



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