The Inventive Process

As most inventors know, the process of inventing can be both exhilarating and at the same time terribly frustrating. It is difficult to create a method to the invention madness. By their very nature, inventions are topsy-turvy, and unpredictable. Yet it has been my experience that more often than not inventors succeed when they practice the following principles.

  1. The inventor is open-minded about changing the initial paradigm about the outcome. Often, inventors end up with different outcomes as those originally envisioned. Daniel W. Fox invented Lexan poly carbonate at GE in 1953 after conducting a series of experiments while working on a project to develop new wire insulation material. Ask, "What other beneficial outcomes are possible and how else can I take advantage of the invention I am working on?"
  2. The inventor should go about developing the invention in as systematic a fashion as money and capabilities allow. This means following up on leads from the experimental data, using designs of experiments where appropriate, and developing a conceptual or mechanistic understanding.
  3. Thomas Alva Edison was quoted as saying, "Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." Persistence and perspiration are no doubt keys to success, but the equation has changed since Edison made this statement in the early 1900s. He made his statement before the internet, e-mail, cell phones, and other modern tools and conveniences. The invention field is more crowded today, and idea originality can make or break an invention more so than in the past and should not be underestimated. Today, in my opinion, the inspiration to perspiration ratio is closer to 50/50 for successful inventions. Inspirations come form both inner sources and by connecting with a proper inventive environment (e.g., through reading, discussing, and collaborating).
  4. Use your intuition. Intuition is not a scientific concept because it can not be well defined in scientific terms. Yet if you ask successful inventors how they navigated through the maze and clouds to see the light at the end of the tunnel, they will often, off the record, mention intuition or instinct.
    Intuition develops through a combination of varied experiences and theories that suggest certain patterns that are difficult to demonstrate to the outside world. I see intuition differently than inspiration in that inspiration tends to come from an outside source while intuition develops from one's own experiences. Intuition can be fostered and developed.
  5. Develop a big picture framework for the invention. Let's face it: most inventors will not spend the time, effort and money unless they had some expectation of making a profit. Have some idea of how you will commercialize the product or process, how you will market it, and how the invention will make money. You don't necessarily have to make it happen yourself: if the concept has merit, you may sell the rights to the invention rather than commercialize it yourself.
  6. Some inventions nevertheless succeed despite the absence of an immediate market by eventually creating a demand for it. So keep a big picture focus and don't give up just because companies that you approached say they are not interested. Your friends and neighbors might be a better gauge to the ultimate success of the invention.
  7. Get a reality check. A lone inventor can easily get tunnel vision without outside or independent critique. In large enterprises, inventions are developed in teams that foster effective idea generation and brainstorming. Admittedly, for a lone inventor, getting a second opinion may be difficult if confidentiality is an issue.