The Real Reason Companies Are Looking for Your Product Ideas

Open innovation is flourishing because creative people want to work for themselves. It's as simple as that.

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By Stephen Key


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When I explain that for many years I made a living out of licensing my product ideas to powerful companies for passive income, people are often dubious. Are companies really looking for ideas from independent inventors? Don't they already have all the creative talent they need? What do I have to offer them? How can I compete? To them, the whole scenario seems implausible. It's not, and I know why firsthand.

The reality is that the most creative people do not want to work for someone else. They prefer to work for themselves, because they want their work to be recognized. They're passionate about what they do -- they want to claim ownership over it. But when you work for a large company, all you're ever going to receive is a paycheck. There's no incentive for creative people to do their best work, to give their all.

Related: 3 Ways to Combat Stale Ideas

The reason I initially began inventing new products on my own is for exactly that reason -- I walked the aisles of stores and truly thought I could do better. I didn't have a background in product design. It just seemed obvious. I had fun ideas for products that didn't exist, ideas I thought would sell.

At the time, I was working for a toy startup. When I shared my ideas for new products with my bosses, they weren't interested. They were wary of me taking my eyes off manufacturing, which I had been overseeing. I got that, but I was frustrated. Ultimately, it made the decision to leave a lot easier.

On my own, I broke into the novelty-gift market, which was relatively easy, because companies in that industry are always looking for new ideas.

In truth, working for myself motivated me to work harder. I liked collecting royalty checks. The fact that there was no limit to the amount of money I could potentially make excited me. Don't get me wrong: It was hard. I scribbled down idea after idea day after day. Most were terrible. But some sold. I'm appreciative that my wife Janice supported me while I got my feet under me.

Related: For This Artist-Entrepreneur, 3-D Printing Expands Opportunities for Creativity and Professional Exposure

Of course, there are exceptions. There are some extremely talented designers working for big companies. But most creative people burn out. They leave to start their own companies. Working for someone else gets old fast. I think big companies are great at some things, such as manufacturing, distribution and marketing. Creativity? Not so much.

All of which is to say: Don't underestimate yourself! Your insight is valuable. My students are always amazed to discover that they can do this. I think anyone who is a consumer can. Empower yourself with the confidence to try.

This is why open innovation is flourishing. Companies can't possibly hire and retain all of the creative people out there. It's just not possible. Frankly, it's not a good culture fit. There's no reason why you should psyche yourself out before you even get started.

The joy of creating something from nothing is nothing less than magical. Creative people never forget that. I know for sure that you don't have to work at a company to come up with a winning product idea that it might want to license.

Related: Why Your Neuroticism May Be the Key to Your Creativity

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.

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