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Trina McFarland - Integrating Inventor Relations Polarities: The Hunter and The Gatherer

Integrating Inventor Relations Polarities: The Hunter and The Gatherer

Inventor Relations, Product Acquisition, Innovation Programs, etc. Companies call us a few things, but the role is essentially the same. I could blather on about the lifecycle of our role (identifying needs, communicating strategy, sweeping, presenting, tracking, negotiating, and mediating), but I think it’s more interesting to consider the IR role in a new way, as I might discuss it with my grandpa.

My grandpa is a total hippie cowboy weirdo. Like peace pipe smoking, state archery champion, nudist, retreat to the dessert for a few weeks with a gallon of water and box of matches kind of guy. He used to read me excerpts from, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” as a kid. Comparative mythology and poetry were a regular occurrence in my childhood among other oddities that did not help me with fitting in.

My grandpa loves discussing archetypes, personal polarities and everything that is the other. So, at the risk of oversimplifying and generalizing, I’d like to explore the polarities I’ve experienced and observed in my role as Inventor Relations for Disney, Jakks Pacific, Fisher-Price, Mattel and now my own company as I redefine my professional style outside the confines of a company or set job description.

This is what I’ve come find. Inventor Relations professionals bring personal style and approach to the job, but we typically lead with either a hunter or gatherer approach to the job.

The Hunter

Primary drive: Me, myself and I must identify and find the next superstar mega hit under a rock outside of a creative convention in Istanbul.

Key Words: I am the talent. I create targets.

Guiding Principles: I am a seeker and cultivator.

Typical Behaviors: Globe-trotting, culture seeking, trend spotting, following trade magazines, refining Youtube subscriptions to the hottest new influencers, reading toy reviews, watching TED talks, speaking fluently and impressively about innovation and new technologies.

Can be spotted: at retail pushing every button and shaking every package while guessing what inventor has done what.

Challenges: disconnecting from their teams/partners and missing opportunities that are critical volume drivers for the inventing community. Not viewed as an integrated, reliable part of the D&D process.

Opportunities: Attend line reviews and key milestone meetings to identify opportunities. Deepen relationships and establish regular, reliable communication with design/marketing leads. Shepherd and troubleshoot concepts thru the lifecycle with good old fashion project management muscle and discipline.

Value: thought leader and company ambassador for everything “innovation”.

The Gatherer

Primary drive: I flank and support my design and marketing partners to deliver solutions and new opportunities with their guidance.

Key Words: I facilitate talent. I hit targets.

Guiding Principles: I am a bridge and offer solutions.

Typical Behaviors: out to lunch with design leads, reviewing detailed tracking documents for in-house concept status, attending all major milestone meetings, reading and rereading brand strategy documents, planning an efficient way to interface with the inventing community so they can get back to home base quickly, answering emails and picking up the phone. Driving execution and problem solving.

Can be spotted: hiding at the back of line review studying executive reactions to items and writing down potential opportunities for inventors, buried in tracking documents, actively solving problems in-person with great care to protect relationships and prevent escalation of anything negative. In someone’s office or on the phone making the right connection at the right time.

Challenges: perceived as a paper pusher, replaceable, and lacking “talent”.

Opportunities: Indulge in a little passion for product. Study the marketplace. Facilitate but speak up and put your spin on things.

Value: executor and effective with placing inventor items.

And there you have it. The polarity of the Inventor Relations role. The skillsets by which we are measured, and at times, judged by the inventing community, colleagues and most importantly, ourselves. The very sides of our professional skillsets that should be balanced within ourselves or our teams, so we can best serve the inventing community and our industry. To be most effective in this curious, somewhat still undefined role across the industry, we should find equilibrium between passion for product and passion for process. Now pat your head and rub your tummy.

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