3 Reasons Why Being an Innovator Might Be a Bad Career Path

Innovator. It’s a word that every entrepreneur aspires to on some level. Well-known innovators like Steve Jobs, Thomas A. Edison, Ben Franklin and many others change the world, and it’s only natural to take them as our role models.

Unfortunately, being an innovator is not for everyone. Here’s one reason: Innovators are always looked at in hindsight. No one knows they’re an innovator when they’re actually doing the work they’ll one day be recognized for.

The young Steve Jobs
There are reasons why Steve Jobs is the one and only – photo credit: Photo Giddy / Flickr

In reality, innovation isn’t a good career path for most. I’ll illustrate the reasons why below.

1. Innovators Often Have a Short Career

Innovators are often at the forefront on new technologies. They are the early adopters, paying the way for new users and modeling how to integrate new behaviors and technologies into daily life. But for businesses like this who have an edge for a moment, it’s very easy to lose this edge. Think about it. By demonstrating that you are charting a path to the future, you’ve got a target drawn on your back. Other businesses will be looking at the way you do things, trying to do it better and take over your market share.

So what’s the alternative? Doing something else, very very well. I’m thinking of companies like System Sensor. They’re a company that makes smoke detectors and fire alarms. This technology isn’t on the bleeding edge, but it’s necessary to daily life. By making themselves one of the best players in the industry, they are ensuring a long and stable career. So if you are considering a business venture, don’t always think about what’s on the cutting edge. Consider mastering something that has been around for awhile.

2. “Innovators” Aren’t Always Innovating, Actually

You’ll see this in movies sometimes, as well as other forms of art. Genuinely creative people set out to make something new and different, and only end up making something pretentious. This happens a lot in tech, too, and in lots of other industries.

Here’s one prominent example: Facebook. You see, Facebook is winning not because they are innovative. They are winning because they learn what works with other social networks – like Twitter, for example – and copy the strategy; they are also winning because they acquire innovative companies like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Would-be-innovators often get out of touch. They lose track of what real people actually need, instead providing technologies and services that are irrelevant. Chances are, instead of being innovators and visionaries, they end up being nobodies.

With that said, it’s important to make sure that your “innovation” is really an innovation. If it’s not, it’s probably nothing anybody needs, and your career won’t last.

Facebook HQ
Facebook is winning not because it’s a particularly innovative company (hint: It’s their copycat strategy) – photo credit: Marco pakoeningrat / Flickr

3. Innovators Rarely Succeed

Unless you are also willing to be a masterful business person, being an innovator isn’t enough. Think about it, there are plenty of people with good ideas, which ultimately go on to get poached by people with no ideas, and deep pockets. If you have great ideas, technology, practices, or service models, prepare to fight to keep these things in your fold. Lots of innovators don’t have the requisite business sense to make their ideas count. Maybe this means hiring a team to implement your ideas. But you’ve got to be able to do what it takes.


I’m not saying that I’m a pessimistic or critic. However, there are times when we need to be realistic in our professional or entrepreneurial journey. Being an entrepreneur is somehow different from being an innovator. Entrepreneurs turn ideas – even the most simple ones – into reality; or make things better, at least. Innovators, on the other hand, create something out of ‘nothing’, and it has to be life-changing to make it matters. Like iPod; drones; or a flying cars in the near future. And you need to deal with the challenge for innovating continuously – something that is only a select few can do it.

As you can see, being an innovator isn’t as easy as it sounds. Look realistically at what you have to offer. If it is novel greatness, then try to innovate the industry you are a part of. But if what you have is less than innovative, adjust your expectations and find another way to play the long game. You can still make a difference and change the world without being on the cutting-edge side.

As always, this is a personal opinion of mine. I’m sure you may have a different view on innovation. Please share your thoughts!