By Michael Novinski, CEO and cofounder, Androvia Life Sciences
By its very definition, innovation may travel long and painful paths, require repeated failure, and invite numerous mistakes to gather experience for bringing forward something new. Lady luck also intervenes occasionally, as well. We also can loosely associate innovation with the premise that knowledge is gained only through experience or mistakes. That “something new” can be a simple behavioral approach to an existing problem, or it can be an entirely new idea to improve our quality of life. Whatever it may be, innovation is rarely simple and straightforward. In most instances, if innovation is to be truly successful, it is filling a market need. After all, what’s the point of having a better mousetrap if you don’t need one? If you are thinking about being an innovator, get prepared for a pretty bumpy road, but know that it eventually smooths out and becomes an exhilarating ride.
INNOVATION EXAMPLES IN SPORTS & DRUG DEVELOPMENT
Let’s look at two very different examples of innovation. The game of basketball was changed many years ago by the three-point shot. Initially, many people saw this as a gimmick, not innovation. But today, the three-point shot defines the game; rosters are built on a team’s ability to get this extra point. Still, it took many years of failing by a few innovative coaches who eventually figured out the value of this shot — not only how it could improve their game but also how the paying customer would accept it. The three-point shot was originally introduced by the ABA, which was in existence from 1967 to 1976. The NBA finally adopted the shot in 1979. Now, years later, voila! We have the fast-paced, exciting game we all know.
The second example involves drug development, an expensive area for innovators that also benefits from a little luck every once and awhile. In this industry, only a true innovator can look at a side effect of a drug that is in development and failing to meet the primary endpoint based on the original investment and interpret that side effect as an opportunity. Of course, I’m talking about Viagra. Let’s be honest: Until Viagra, discussions about erectile dysfunction were awkward (and sometimes still are). But today, it’s not uncommon to turn on the TV and see a beautiful female model in a commercial talking about this problem and its solution.
Remember, not everyone can visualize the opportunity that can come from a failure. But failure is likely the result of a mistake, and a mistake is experience, and experience brings knowledge. Innovators know this.
Viagra (sildenafil citrate) was synthesized in 1989. It was originally intended for heart problems, but it didn’t show much promise in early trials. However, some of the volunteers in those trials were reporting erections after several days of taking a certain dose. The rest is history. The patent was granted in 1996, the product was approved in 1998, and sales peaked close to 2 billion dollars in 2008. In fact, the counterfeit market has been estimated in the range of $54 billion!
Innovation indicates something new, and it requires patience. Sure, there are some short paths to innovation … occasionally. For instance, Chrysler’s introduction of the mini-van or the Caravan was an instantaneous success. But usually, innovators are very familiar with failure. Bob Dylan’s first band lost a high school competition to a tap dancer. Steve Jobs began his career hacking into landlines to get free long-distance phone calls. Thomas Edison never thought he failed. He just explained it as, “I found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections before becoming President and won the only two elections that mattered, both for President of the United States. In fact, Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. President who held a U.S. patent. The patent involved a flotation device for boats to lift them over shoals or obstructions where they would often get stuck. Previously, the crews would have to unload cargo until the boat raised enough to get off the obstruction. The invention was never commercialized, but it showed how Lincoln was an innovator. Fortunately, other issues would become a priority for this great leader. He would establish himself and this nation on a path to freedom and preservation of the constitution.
INNOVATION FOLLOWS MANY PATHS
No one has a crystal ball that predicts the next great innovation. Still, some people on Wall Street will try to convince you that they have all the answers. I would be careful how you weigh these conversations. Innovation is going on all around us; it’s springing up everywhere. Of course, so is failure. We develop these innovations and learn how to move forward. For me, the path has stayed around healthcare. And, where I have been involved in the development of many innovative ideas that have become products, I have also gained exposure to various therapeutic fields with a variety of healthcare professionals from research to treatment and everything in between. Innovation follows many paths for any industry. It’s not always evident. It’s frustrating, yet rewarding. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it’s exhilarating! But often, this exhilaration comes only at the end of the innovation cycle. We experience many levels of failure, and the conclusion comes with the pragmatic application of innovation. True innovators recognize this.
Indeed, failure and experience are often synonymous and accompany innovation much of the time. So, the next time you fail, just think, you actually may be on to something that will truly change the quality of life for someone — or many people. It helps if you pause and reflect on those failures and the lessons learned and the distance traveled. Innovators need a mechanism for motivation. Many times this is internal motivation. Good luck and stay persistent!