13 Critical Traits of Successful Inventors

To be successful in the business of your ideas, follow these observations from an industry veteran.

learn more about Stephen Key

By Stephen Key

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

To master any profession, determination is needed. There are no shortcuts. No one can bestow upon you all of the knowledge you need. You have to do the work yourself -- which is why achieving success is so gratifying. The best advice I can offer you is to learn how to enjoy the journey.

I've met many successful inventors throughout my career. I've also had the pleasure of watching aspiring inventors thrive and prosper. I've often wondered what sets those who succeed apart from those who don't. Making it as a professional isn't for the faint of heart!

This is what I have learned about successful inventors after years of observation.

1. They don't fall in love with their ideas.

Your ideas are not your children. Successful inventors understand the importance of detaching themselves from their ideas. Inventing is a numbers game. Some of your ideas will be profitable, but others won't. You need to be able to tell the difference between the two.

Related: Consider Inventing as a Form of Investment

If you become too emotionally or financially involved, walking away will become more and more difficult. Don't get me wrong: I love all of my ideas. I want them to succeed. But I'm also pragmatic. If you want to do this for a living, you have to be able to assess your ideas critically.

2. They test their ideas.

Will your idea make money? How can you be sure? Successful inventors seek out proof of demand early on.

3. They keep their ideas to themselves.

The only opinion that truly matters is that of the company you are showing your idea to, after all.

4. They understand how to use intellectual property to protect their ideas.

To become a successful inventor, you must teach yourself how copyrights, trademarks and patents work. It's not enough to hire a lawyer and assume he or she will take care of your needs.

5. They don't file patents right away.

To be clear, I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. But in my experience, successful inventors file provisional patent applications first. They need time to determine whether the idea is going to be profitable, after all.

6. They stick to one industry.

The successful inventors I know don't jump around much. Instead, they focus on becoming experts and forging mutually beneficial relationships within an industry. This strategy is incredibly effective. As trust deepens, companies begin to approach them with their creative needs. Familiarizing yourself an industry means your timing will never be off.

7. They attend the right trade shows and seminars.

See some tips on trade shows here.

Related: How to Take Advantage of the "First-to-File" Patent System

8. They outsource.

To become a successful inventor, you will need to don many different hats. You can't be great at everything. Assess your strengths and be smart about your time. Finding an affordable freelancer is painless. When it comes to graphic design work, for example -- hiring a professional is so worth it.

9. They know it's up to them.

Successful inventors understand that they are going to be the one who ultimately champions their idea across the finish line. They know that they are going to have to work harder than anyone else.

10. They have a sense of urgency.

Product development is a long process. You need to get started as soon as possible.

11. They are persistent.

Every successful inventor I know has been rejected countless times. Rather than getting discouraged and giving up, they ask questions to try to understand what went wrong and try again.

12. They don't let their emotions betray them.

Chances are, you wouldn't be interested in becoming an inventor if you weren't passionate. That's fantastic! But this is a business. It's not personal. If you want to become a professional, you will need to act like one. That means holding your tongue and your tears.

13. They're not afraid to fail.

As my friend Charles Lamprey, an inventor who has brought five of his ideas to market so far, said the other day, "Fail fast and fail often." You won't be able to move on until you do.

Becoming a successful inventor takes more than having an idea scrawled on a napkin.

Related: Encouragement Is Growing for Women Inventors

Stephen Key

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Co-Founder of inventRight; Author of One Simple Idea Series

Stephen Key is an inventor, IP strategist, author, speaker and co-founder of inventRight, LLC, a Glenbrook, Nevada-based company that helps inventors design, patent and license their ideas for new products.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.

Business News

I Live on a Cruise Ship for Half of the Year. Look Inside My 336-Square-Foot Cabin with Wraparound Balcony.

I live on a cruise ship with my husband, who works on it, for six months out of the year. Life at "home" can be tight. Here's what it's really like living on a cruise ship.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.

Business Solutions

Master Coding for Less Than $2 a Course with This Jam-Packed Bundle

Make coding understandable with this beginner-friendly coding bundle, now just $19.99.

Health & Wellness

5 Essential Steps to Expand Your Vision and Start Living Your Dream Life

It's time to break free from your comfort zone and expand your vision. When you refuse to settle for a mediocre life, you can start building a life you love.

Starting a Business

Ask Marc | Free Business Advice Session with the Co-Founder of Netflix

Get free business advice during our next Ask Marc, live Q&A, on 3/28/23 at 3 p.m. EDT. You don't want to miss it—send in your questions now.