I was recently discussing “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, a term coined by Clayton Christensen from the Harvard Business School that explains how established incumbents must continue to invest in sustainable innovations, or incremental improvements to their existing products, to remain relevant. Since I tend to work with innovators – the and startups that challenge the established incumbents – I had a conversation with a friend and cutting-edge entrepreneur, Tom Ingoglia, founder of the NAD Treatment Center and President of the Center for Research on Addiction and Brain Health, about how he stays ahead of the curve as the actual disruptor.
Ingoglia is an accidental entrepreneur who found his way to launching his businesses via his personal health story. Suffering from fibromyalgia and Lyme disease, Ingoglia spent eight years of his life traveling from doctor to doctor to remedy his pain, only to receive a growing number of prescription pain medications. In researching non-traditional therapy options, he found Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD), a Vitamin B coenzyme naturally produced by our bodies as children. Not only did an infusion of this vitamin resolve his pain, it also removed a growing craving for opiate pain medications.
As Ingoglia’s life was changed in a matter of days, he became committed to making this treatment and others available as widely as possible, starting two businesses in the process. But, because his companies are among the first in the country to offer his products, he found himself in his own innovator’s dilemma. NAD is becoming more widely known and increasingly available, so Ingoglia has committed to continue to lead the innovations in his industry, and has suggested four tips for staying on the bleeding edge if you are the innovator.
1. You have to be in the thick of things.
One trick that many entrepreneurs know is that if an opportunity is only a plane ride away, a true innovator will find a way to show up.
As Ingoglia explains, “I recently flew to Florida for one dinner. I didn’t know what it was going to be about but knew it was led by a true leader in anti-aging and that we were meant to do work together. This dinner led to a new product rollout that will launch in July, and will be among the first innovations of its kind in anti-aging.”
You have to take the risk and buy the ticket. This is what will give you the edge you need to stay ahead.
2. Understand that you don’t know what you don’t know.
Ingoglia rarely regrets going to a conference, because there is always something he can take away. In fact, he is adamant that this is the only way to stay ahead. “Forget and classes, as they are generally outdated. As an innovator, I have to read between the lines at conferences among leaders in my space to see what people are actually saying, and where the next innovation will lie. Knowledge isn’t acquired through reflection; it is acquired through connection.”
Ingoglia believes that there are now only four degrees of separation in the world, and, in his world specifically, only one or two. “We are in an insanely connected world now. As one recent example of the importance of connection, we are beginning a trial shortly with one of the leading scientists in my field because I met him at a conference and built a relationship. Rather than read the book, it is our responsibility as innovators to go find the person who wrote it.”
3. Go with your gut.
Large established incumbents suffer from paralysis by analysis – this provides the opportunity for industry disruption. Ingoglia believes that you have to innovate in a timely manner.
“At the end of the day, you are only going to know so much. By working on the problem, you gain a better understanding of what the problem actually is – you can always change the solution. As an entrepreneur, you already know the first few steps, so don’t question yourself. You intuitively know what you are doing already.”
4. Build an environment of creativity and trust.
As an entrepreneur, we work long hours and expect a lot from our team. As Ingoglia builds his team, he separates candidates into four camps as defined in Leadership and the Structure of Trust, a white paper published by the European Business Review – people who seek to acquire, defend, collaborate or create.
“You have to have a mixture of talent on your team, but I am a huge believer in surrounding myself with creators and collaborators. Friendliness matters, so my litmus test in hiring is finding creators and bonders. Civilization itself was based on a concept of trust – when people trust, they share ideas. It is our job as innovators to build that environment.”
When you are the innovator leading the disruption, it is important to remember to keep that culture you started with, trust your gut and continue taking the big risks.
Here are four tips for staying ahead of the curve in an ever-changing, innovative environment.
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