It’s absolutely critical that leaders understand this: An innovation has no value until an ambitious entrepreneur builds a business model around it and turns it into a product or service that customers will buy. If you can’t turn an innovative idea into something that creates a customer, it’s worthless.
But first, a quick but important distinction between innovators and entrepreneurs. An innovator is first and foremost a creator, a problem solver with a deep passion for improving something. Innovators are thinkers. But an entrepreneur is driven to act, to build. This includes building the businesses that make and sell the things that innovators think up, because entrepreneurs are doers.
Of course we need innovators. And we need tons of their ideas and innovations. But we need to ask the right question about every single one of those ideas: “Can we sell it?” Every time an inventor has a new idea, we should ask, “Exactly who is the customer?” “What miracle does it provide the customer?” “What is the business model?” “How many customers will love this?”