Learning from a Master Innovator

Blog Post created by paula.waggoner Advocate on Feb 2, 2016

I met a real life innovator today.  It was such a fascinating view into a world few see I decided I had to share this with you. I have always been curious about people like this.  I guess I thought they would be running around in lab coats or something.  Not an average guy in blue jeans, boots, driving a big pickup truck, and running a small business.


I can’t tell you who he is or any specifics.  My firm is working on securing his company as a client.


What I can say is he is a well-known upstream innovator who carries about an idea book everywhere he goes. I have no idea how many patents he has - I lost track after the 5th one he mentioned. The people who work with him say he gets 10 to 20 ideas a day and thoughtfully writes them down in his idea books.  He has stories and stories of things he has developed that companies has sold.  His office is filled with these books.  It looks like a mad genius’ office.  Only the genius understands the placement and filing system.  Don’t touch anything!!


I was in for a very unexpected treat.  So today he showed me an idea he has been working on.  He whips out a 3 foot high demo.  It was a model.  As he was showing me how it is used and various components, I started asking him about his creative process.  Seriously, in the 20 years I have been in this business – I have never met one of these guys/gals before.  He refers to himself as an “ideas man”.  So I asked -  are you like an engineer type that drafts all sorts of measurements out as you conceptualize equipment you are developing and then build these models?




As I listened …my eyes grew big and jaw dropped.


He thinks of an idea. For the best ones, he develops a small scale model with materials or calls one of his plastics buddies to print one out (cheaper and easier these days… couple hundred dollars).  He tinkers with materials, metals, chemicals, fluids, etc in that model.  Improvises. Studies.  Plays with it.  Shows it to others.  They play with it.  They change it.  Prints a revised version.  Then builds an actual prototype.  Amazing. Almost like any 10 year old does.


I was astonished.  A man of 60 plus years who still plays like a child!  I was so totally inspired.  I could do this!!!  Yes, me an energy CFO / financial mechanic type.  Seriously, you could too.  Just sketch it, think about it, adjust the sketch, “lego it”, order a plastic model, study and analyze it, over again, later build a real prototype or get another firm to build one.  Wow.


I know I skipped over the patent process and a few other things.


Imagine if you employer gave you 1 day play time a month.  Along the same lines as Google.  And they had someone who can take your sketch and make plastic molds. Can you imagine the innovation coming from a company that embraced this kind of thinking?  


The opportunity to visualize and learn from a master today was totally worth the trip.  These are the types of client calls that I live for.  I always learn something new from these industry veterans.


So I am curious, Candice Landry Heather Gillbanks I know you both have a lot of experience working around industry innovators.  Are there any similarities in the creative process I have described with that you have experienced or observed?