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Building a Better Baby Bottle

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Jennifer Morrill's father was constantly inventing things, from a wind generator to a baby bottle. That last product seemed to have legs, so he set up a company and attempted to recruit his daughter away from her corporate job at Yahoo. She demurred but, after he died, she decided to step in and run the business, Adiri. One of her boldest executive decisions to date was to scrap her father's original schematic and bring in an industrial designer to make the product, which had been sold primarily through doctors, more appealing as a retail item. The gamble appears to have worked and today the company is on track to grow twelvefold in terms of annual sales, according to the New York Times.

Adiri's tale illustrates two truths about innovation. First, successful inventors (and those who study the history of invention) have told me that the most prodigious innovators—the Edisons and so forth—were never wedded to a single idea. They wandered the invention waterfront, working on multiple ideas simultaneously, and dabbling in completely different fields over the course of a career. Some of the ideas that the great tinkerers thought would be huge hits turned out to be duds, while some of their more modest creations turned out to be major moneymakers. The point is that, like Morrill's father, most successful inventors don't devote themselves to one invention as much as the process of invention. They are comfortable designing wind generators, then turning to the task of perfecting the baby bottle.

The second aspect of this story that jumps out at me is the fact that Jennifer Morrill came to believe that the best way to advance her father's legacy was, counterintuitively, to scrap his original design. As I said, the bottle was initially sold through doctors, who supplied it to their patients. But after a buyer for Babies R Us expressed interest in the product, Morrill saw that the company's future was in retail. That meant making the product more appealing as an object that would be displayed on store shelves. As a daughter, Morrill may have had reservations about straying too far from her father's design. But as an entrepreneur, she didn't let any sense of sentimentality interfere with making the call to completely revamp the product. It's one of the fundamental lessons of business today: the innovation that got you where you are may not be the innovation that will get you where you want to go.

Last updated: Nov 14, 2007




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