“Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Action is what differentiates an entrepreneur from an inventor,” writes Jeff Stibel for Harvard Business Review.
Yes, we often think that inventors are the “idea” people and look to them for creative inspiration. However, inventors can teach us all a thing or two about motivation, productivity and yes, taking action. After all, I believe most inventions are actually products of failed actions. Sarah Boone wanted a device to help her neatly iron clothes (ironing board), George Crum wanted to appease an unhappy restaurant guest (potato chip), and Marjorie Joyner needed a faster process for straightening tightly-curled hair (permanent waving machine).
As we continue to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of black Americans during Black History Month, let’s take a look at the “actions” these famous black inventors teach today’s entrepreneurs.
Always Be Prepared to Pivot
Botanist and inventor George Washington Carver discovered that the nutrients of a peanut were just what the depleted soils of southern cotton and tobacco fields needed. But when farmers were unable to manage the abundance of the peanuts they harvested, Washington Carver knew he had to change his course a bit. He went on to discover more than 300 products that could be developed from the peanut (food, ink, facial cream, etc.)—giving farmers the fertile soil they needed along with a new revenue stream from their peanut crop.
Failure is not the enemy of success. Matter of fact, it is usually through failure that you discover new opportunities for growth. Don’t be afraid to venture off of your original path as you move toward your goal.
Create Brand Ambassadors
As the creator of a black hair product empire, Madam C.J. Walker revolutionized the hair care industry and built a team of believers who promoted her philosophy throughout the world. Known as "Walker Agents", these trained beauticians were encouraged to not only be successful in sales but were recognized and rewarded for their philanthropic and educational efforts in the African-American community.
When you take the time to build a team who believes in your products and believes in your mission, you have given your brand a loud and prominent voice in the communities you serve. Empower team members to use your products and services to impact the kind of change they want to see in the world.
Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
Janet Emerson Bashen is the founder and CEO of the Bashen Corporation, a private consulting group that investigates Equal Employment Opportunity complaints. Needing to find a way to store and retrieve EEO case information, Bashen collaborated with her cousin Donny Moore (a computer scientist) to develop software that could securely store information.
It is always important to know what you know, but it is equally important to know what you don’t know. Cast your collaboration net wide and deep—look for people who have experience and knowledge in areas where you may be weak regardless of the person’s industry, gender, religion, culture, race or sexual orientation. Become an Equal Opportunity Collaborator (EOC)—offering up your own talents and tools to help others as well.
Never Stop Looking for Solutions
Frederick Jones, best known for developing a cooling process that could refrigerate trucks, was a born problem-solver. An observer of his environment, Jones was always inventing things, but—more importantly—he was always improving upon things. He was never satisfied with just finding a solution, he wanted it to be the best solution.
Never stop looking for the BEST solution to the challenges you face--whether they are internal (a new process for tracking sales) or external (improvements to an existing product to better meet the needs of customers). Tweaking current processes and products not only improves the bottom line of your business, but it also reignites your entrepreneurial spirit.
The biggest lesson entrepreneurs learn from inventors? Be innovative. Innovation is at the heart of every invention ever created and becoming an innovative entrepreneur is what differentiates a good company from a great one.