Posted by Bill Meade at January 13, 2006 11:58 AM
By: Bill Meade, Ph.D.
After employees have completed an invention disclosure ... and lived (Stage 1: Discovery). And, after they have calibrated themselves to the ideas that their company wants from them (Stage 2: Calibration), there is another stage in development that is difficult to describe. I think of it as "status-seeking." I'm pretty sure that this is a distinct stage in the life cycle of an inventor because:
#1 for a 6 to 12 month period after they are fully productive within the IP management system, the newbie inventors only invent by themselves.
#2 These "post-newbie" inventors become very quiet. Their appearances at weekly invention office hours drop off. They will eat the BasicIP inventor cookies, but only if you take the cookies to their desk. When these post-newbie inventors talk to you, they corner you in a 1-on-1 situation, and then they ask a lot of questions about the inventing social environment. "How many patents does X have?" "How long has Y been inventing in the blockso area?" "What is the record for invention disclosures in a year?" "What is the average file rate?" "Who is inventing in widgets?" So, like Neo being interrogated by Agent Smith, post-newbie inventors can be seen to be all ears.
#3 The post-newbie inventor's risk profile shifts dramatically. The inventions coming from the newbie inventor become less forward looking and more "safe" in the engineering culture of the company. While in their first few disclosures the inventor delighted in thinking "outside the box," during the status-seeking phase of development, inventions suddenly focuses "in the box."
Entry point for post-newbie inventors to the status seeking stage is having 2 issued patents and 5 to 10 patent applications in-process. At this point the post-newbie begins to be "known" among other inventors for something. For example, an inventor may become known for creating building blocks for all to use in a technical area (i.e., a “genius”), for being prolific in a certain kind of inventing across technical areas (i.e., being a “renaissance person”), for being an opportunist (i.e., having a splatter-gun pattern across fad surfing-technologies and/or insinuating themselves into other people’s inventions), for being a “one trick pony” (i.e., refusing to invent outside a domain), etc. [*Aside* Please email me any fun/surprising inventor reputations that you've heard about. Inventors can be savage in their honesty describing in reduced-form, what other inventors do.]
The off-ramp for status-seeking inventors is exclusion from membership in the inventing community. If, after an inventor has produced a significant body of patentable work, the community accepts them as a peer, the inventor will stay productive and progress to the next inventing life stage: mentoring. If the inventor fails to find a niche in the inventing ecology, they fall off the grid and stop inventing.
Non-traditional inventors are particularly at risk in the status-seeking phase. For example, engineers who move from technical areas into for example, sales. Cross functionally mobile people, are a fantastic source of inventing. However, sales organizations rarely have any tradition or infrastructure for inventing. While the IP attorneys will be delighted to accept invention disclosures from non-traditional inventors, getting the inventors paid for their invention incentives can be a big problem. Beyond this, getting these inventors integrated into the community of conventional inventors is even a bigger problem.
The managerial hand holds for managing inventors in the status-seeking phase are to make sure there are lots of accolades to go around, and to look for ways to create new niches of inventors. I’m not sure why the status phase has mortality at all. It seems like a calibrated inventor would see an invention that needed inventing in the normal course of work, recognize it, stop, and write an invention disclosure. But this has not been the case in my experience. Calibrated inventors often fall off the grid.
There is a strong social aspect to inventing. I can't provide much more guidance on how to harness sociology. But, IP managers need to be sensitive to the sociology around newbie inventors. An annual dinner for inventors is a good thing. But, to maximize profit coming from your inventors much more is needed.
Post-newbie inventors need to feel the love. They resonate to enthusiasm about what they have done. They never get enough calibration information. They are nourished by the communion of kindred minds produced by fellowship with other post-newbie and senior inventors. So, post-newbies need to be drawn back into community. They need to be checked on, encouraged, and given tough love slap therapy when they come up with ideas not up to their potential. But this slap therapy has to come from another inventor. Not a boss or a bureau-cat like an IP manager.
Like raising teenagers, getting an inventor in with the right friends (i.e., other inventors who are supportive) might be a good strategy. You can develop inventing talent, you get a lot more patentable, licensable, and litigatable IP if you bring your inventors up on success. So, as an IP manager you need to watch for small successes you can celebrate. You need to watch for "successes waiting for an inventor" that you can use to "set up" your inventors to have the successes they need to keep growing as inventors.
I suspect that what is going on during the status-seeking phase is that post-newbie inventors are seeing themselves anew. So, the time period of status-seeking may be what it takes for an inventor to develop a fresh "residual self image" updating his/her place in life, career, and company. Inventing is a celebrated activity in American culture. Becoming an inventor brings a lot of cultural implications into an employee's life. IP managers can have a tremendous positive impact on post-newbies if they take the trouble to be catalysts to the development of residual self images that are positive, rooted in company culture, and rich in inventing fellowship.
The next post in this series will review the fourth life stage in an inventor's development: mentoring.
[Part 6 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 5 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 4 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 3 of this discussion is here.]
[Part 2 of this discussion is here.]
[Part I of this discussion is here.]
[Bill's previous post on Proactive Invention Management is here.]