An inventor’s guide to inventing
An inventor is mainly just someone who sticks at it. Thomas Edison, perhaps the greatest inventor that ever lived, famously said that inventing was “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Part one of this series dealt with some simple ways to get ideas and pursue them. In Part two we will look at how to sort the wheat from the chaff.
How do I know if I am on to something?
At one time or another almost everybody has ideas about stuff that interests them. These ideas are often born partly of an over-optimistic view of current technology and / or the market. For one reason or another nearly all of these inventions never see the light of day. Edison also apparently said he had 10,000 failures.
It can be very difficult to asses the potential of an invention. As anyone who watches the BBC show Dragon’s Den will know, an inventor can become fixated on impractical ideas. Houses get sold, lives get derailed. You have to have some sense of what is going to run and what isn’t. If there is one message I want to stress here it is this; yes you have to believe and persevere but you must also be flexible and realistic about the limits of your knowledge. Do your research – blind faith is not necessarily your friend.
For example, like most of us, I have always been intrigued by dreams. When my alarm went off the other day I was dreaming and the sound got built into my dream. This set me thinking. Suppose you could prompt your dreaming self with music or laughter – could you make your dream-life more rewarding? Many people keep their phones by their beds – what about an app? I wear a Fitbit at night which, supposedly, knows when I am in REM (dreaming) sleep. Could that connect via BlueTooth at the right time?
Well maybe, but I doubt it. And maybe it’s just too niche a market. And yet.. how many phones and dreamers are there out there? Billions? It’s that fine line between stuff you know and stuff you only think you know. Maybe someone who does know will pick this up? Anyone? Anyone?
A lot of inventing is just enjoying ideas and believing that it is worth thinking about them. I doubt whether many inventions have happened because people desperately wanted to get rich. It’s more a matter of tinkering. Well, tinkering and obsessiveness. Tinkering, obsessiveness and knowing your subject. If you can see the market and you can keep on thinking you may well bring something new into the World. Which is a really great feeling. But untold riches? Hmmmm… Certainly not in my case.
As I said in Part one there are some very basic Rules of Thumb that I use. If it’s getting simpler it’s probably on the right track. ShowSuit started out quite complex and got really simple. Learning from mistakes means that you are probably thinking creatively. Making a prototype often throws up useful problems. Don’t be impatient, give your ideas “soak time”. Curvorama took 10 years to come together. Like walking away from the slot machine hoping for a payout, sometimes you have to stop thinking for a bit and come at it from a different angle. All this and, most of all a realistic understanding of the market potential, will help you to decide if you are on to something. But mainly, er, just don’t care too much. Enjoy yourself. That way you will be more open to inspiration and never be mentally out of pocket.
In Part three I will discuss prototyping and patenting.