There’s Little Comfort Out Of The Box

Pritpal S Tamber

April 9, 2017

The difference between innovation and entrepreneurialism, and why the former needs more support than it gets

I think I’m beginning to surface from an extraordinarily difficult period in my life. I’ve been reflecting a lot about it these past few weeks and, while watching my subscriber numbers drop, it’s made me ask whether we really appreciate the toll of entrepreneurialism and innovation.

Grab Handles

I listed them separately – entrepreneurialism and innovation – because I see them as vastly different. The former is usually about creating new value, such as a product or service, that can take a slice of an existing market. Innovation is about forming new types of value for which a market may not yet exist. In my view, innovation is way harder than entrepreneurialism because you don’t have the grab handles of the existing market to steady the journey. You have to make your own grab handles along the way.

I don’t believe observers and commentators really understand how unsettling it is to innovate – to operate in a space that doesn’t yet exist, a space in which there are no grab handles to steady the journey. For all the talk of ‘innovation’ (most of which is actually about entrepreneurialism), there is little to none about the impact on the people trying it.

There needs to be.

From Within

I was reminded of all this when a fellow innovator popped round to see me after my knee surgery. We talked about just how tiring innovation is; building the space through narrative, occupying it with a product or service, and then trying to sell it – so establishing a price point and hence a potential market. It takes relentless energy, bravery, belief and support, most of which has to come from within because few ‘outsiders’ truly understand the challenge.

I experience this lack of understanding all the time. The way it manifests most often is when well-meaning friends, all of whom understand the financial struggle of my work, look for ways in which I can make money. Charge them for this! Charge them for that! My friend’s doing X and got paid Y so you should be able to ask for Z…

99.9% of the time what these friends are doing (other than genuinely caring) is using the rules of existing markets. That’s all well and good if you’re an entrepreneur, but not if you’re an innovator. The 0.1% that ‘get it’, offer examples from other markets as a way to feed the creative process of market making – something that most entrepreneurs don’t have to deal with.

Talk Ain’t Cheap

Innovators have to deal with a lot more uncertainty than entrepreneurs, and most human beings don’t handle uncertainty well. For me, just being able to talk about it helps, which is why, at times, this blog likely becomes a place of neurotic introspection. Part of me thinks I should keep such insecurities to myself. And yet, I’ve heard a few readers – often fellow innovators – tell me how much they like that someone is talking about it.

By design, innovators think out of the box. But also by design, our comforts, our grab handles, are inside the box. That’s not something that’s likely to change but what could change is the external support innovators might be able to access.

Pritpal S Tamber

I'm an independent writer, researcher and consultant focussing on community health and medical information. I'm a former physician, medical editor and medical publisher, and also the former Physician Editor of TEDMED. I began my career at The BMJ. For more information, see the About page.

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