What do you think of when you hear the word “innovate” or referring to someone as an “innovator”?
For me, when I hear the word “innovate” I think of old robotics jokes where we would go around scouting other robots to learn of (i.e. “innovate”) new ideas off of them. When I hear someone being referred to as an innovator I am reminded of specific people I know such as Austin Meyers of X-Plane and Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network. I relate this characteristic people to doing something different, being good at it.
Just to see what the actual definition of the word “innovate” is, I looked it up online at dictionary.com.
The definition of “innovate” is:
to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.
From this definition we can see that an innovator is someone who innovates, i.e. they introduce something new into the world never seen before. In Born Digital, the author lists several famous innovators over the years such as Mark Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook), Shawn Fanning (creator of Napster), and Chad Hurley (creator of YouTube). The book also lists a few teen innovators who I did not know who had created small companies that generated profit.
A common trend which you may notice from those that I have stated is that all the innovators above have created a profit-inducing innovation. The thing about innovators is that they can be anybody who introduces something new.
An example of this is Patrick O’Keefe. Whilst I do not believe anyone has ever labeled Patrick as an innovator, as I see him, he is an innovator. Now you may be asking - who is Patrick O’Keefe and why does Mr. Tanner think of him as an innovator? What Patrick does is hard to put into a short group of words, but one could describe him as a guru of community driven websites. Patrick started getting into the business of running communities at an early age (~15 if I have done my calculations correctly) and since then he has gotten very successful at it running multiple forum communities, written a book, and has spoken at many conferences and panels (he’s attending Podcamp Topeka this weekend). If you want to read more about Patrick you can do so here.
What I am getting at about Patrick is that he has come up with new ideas on how to run a community. I’m not just saying that because he has run communities for ten plus years, but because I had a chance a few years ago to be on the moderator team on one of his forums and I got to see how exactly things were done on his community. I even blogged about how good Patrick ran his communities (link is to Patrick blogging about my blog, I no longer have the actual blog entry :( ).
To me, being an innovator is not always about becoming a large, million user company, but to make a difference in the way things are run as the definition from dictionary.com said. Not everyone in society thinks to consider the small changes in the way things are run by those who are not millionaires. Changes can be made by anyone.
Wrapping things up - it is not easy to be an innovator. I’m sure Patrick or any of the other innovators in the world such as Mark Zuckerburg could tell you so. I saw a tweet by Mental Floss that kind of sums things up about being new and being an innovator:<blockquote>When Nolan Bushnell first took Pong to a toy show, he didn’t sell a single game. (“Innovation is hard,” he said.)</blockquote>