If I've been scarce here lately it is because I have taken on a new consulting job, helping a high-tech hardware startup manage what is turning out to be an avalanche of IP. I cannot discus the particulars of the technology, but suffice it to say that this company, which recently completed second round financing to the tune of $6 million, will be papering the town with provisional patent applications over the next year or so.
Inventors are a lot like artists. They have identical creative processes, including the highs and lows, aha!s and fallow periods. What differs is that their "art form" has no fixed means of turning the creative act into a durable artifact. What I mean is that when your metier is having ideas that can later be turned into "methods and apparatus," to use a bit of patent lingo, a great deal of the execution of your work is beyond your control, and beyond the reach of your skills. What is the invention? Is it the finished product? Is it the idea itself? Is it the patent? What is the inventor's medium? Writing? Drawing? Prototyping? All of these are imperfect manifestations of the valuable contribution itself. In short, inventors are like artists without an art form.
My job, right now, is to attempt to build up a methodology that can support an inventor's native processes, to get the inventor's creative output to stream into the work flow of the company, without inadvertently creating a dam.
The challenge is to avoid the kind of soul-killing "project management" approach that most companies use to impose order on chaotic processes. Did Tolstoy take a "project management" approach to writing novels? I hardly think so. I want to create a structure in which creative thinkers can effectively communicate their ideas without imposing any kind of conformity on the ideas or the process of generating them. (Hint: Will the end product look a lot like a blog? It just might.)
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