The 6 Life Stages of Inventors: Part 6 Senescense

Posted by Bill Meade at January 18, 2006 11:49 AM

The off-ramps of the first 5 stages of inventing are entry points to invention senescence. In addition, there is a sixth entry point to senescence. This entry point happens when a scanning inventor goes dark.

Seems like this would not be a big deal. But it is. Senior technical people going dark on inventing allows IP drift. Senior technical people often hold the purse strings for the IP efforts at a company. When senior techies stop inventing, their residual images of inventing and how it works at the company begin to drift out of date. Over years, the mental image in a senior technical person who is a senescent inventor becomes obsolete, leading to under funding of IP infrastructure, poor follow through on the business processes that underly IP policies, and ignorance-based-budgeting. Ignorance based budgeting takes place when people argue over budgets they don't understand. In the extreme, the work does not matter, just the changes in budget from the previous year.

Beside big problems, scanning inventor senescense can cause small problems. For example, invention workshops are frequently organized around senescent inventors. This happens because senescent inventors don't advertise that they are done with inventing. Organizers of invention workshops think it only natural to assume that a very senior engineering manager with a lot of history in a technology, would be a strategic contributor to an invention workshop. The workshop happens. The senescent inventor is a focus. In fact, the more junior technical members of the invention workshop will defer to the senior manager like s/he is some kind of "silver back" gorilla. The workshop runs for two days. Everyone feels good. But no invention disclosures are completed. Once the emergency repair team goes in and captures a few invention disclosures, none of them are filed. How can this be?

I think because of the off ramps of senescent inventors. The first off ramps of inventing with a senescent inventor is the "war story." When the "silver back" regales the workshop with war stories, s/he is in the zone. But, if the war stories don't lead to future-looking, gap filling, or competitively preemptive IP, they are an expensive distraction. The second off-ramp of a senescent inventor in an invention workshop is hierarchy. When things are unequal, it is nice to be on top. Senescent inventors allow hierarchy, they enjoy hierarchy. But, hierarchy causes self-censorship. Non-silver-back inventors will not follow the trail of discovery wherever it leads. So in the end, self-censorship causes invention disclosures to not be completed.

What causes an inventor to become senescent? It could be that inventors are born with a certain number of ideas in them, and once the ideas are used up, the inventor coasts. It could be that in a person's ego, there is a stomach for inventing. When an inventor has enough disclosures, patents, and plaques to fill up their ego-stomach, they stop inventing. The inventor might run out of ideas on the current technology they work in, and not be willing to learn a new technology. Oxygen depravation at the highest levels of company management could cause inventing to stop. Creeping sense of entitlement that come with rank may choke out inventing. I read biographies for a hobby. I just finished a fighter pilot biography that talked about generals who make subordinates walk 3 steps behind them. Generals that have alarms put in the hall outside their pentagon office so that when they leave their office all subordinates will have cleared the area. It could be a lot of things that stop a senior inventor.

The most important thing we IP managers know about what stops inventors is that it is our job to detect and remove it. We will never have a list of everything that stops inventors from inventing high quality cool, patentable, licensable, future-looking, gap-filling and competitively preemptive IP. So we need to act as invention off-ramp detectors for our organizations. We need to make lists of our organization's inventing off-ramps. We need to keep track of people who should be inventing, but are not. We need to engage with these should-be inventors and show them the love that it takes to get them plugged into making the company more valuable with their brains.

[All-In-One PDF of this 6-part article 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.]

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March 29, 2006 11:06 PM

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