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How to Come Up With Ideas for Inventions

Updated on April 6, 2009

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

The old saying, necessity is the mother of invention, is still probably the best guide as it is the driving force for two of the most common ways I can think of for coming up with ideas for new inventions.

The first way comes about when a person realizes that they need something, or decides that their life would be better if only there was a gadget that could achieve a result faster and/or easier than the present manual method. Faced with this obstacle, creative people proceed to invent and build the desired gadget for themselves. Often times, others also find it useful and the creators suddenly finds themselves in the business of either producing and selling the product or licensing it to someone else and collecting royalties on the sale of their invention.

A Second Way to Get Ideas for Inventions

The second way people get ideas for new inventions is by observing other people struggle with a task and decide there has to be a better way.

This can be an accidental occurance where person ‘A’ sees person ‘B’ struggling and gets an idea. Or, it can be deliberate as when Scott Cook, the creator of Intuit Corporation, had money to start a computer software business but knew neither how to write a program nor what program to write.

So, he began observing people and looking for ideas. He finally got the idea for a checkbook balancing program when he saw his wife struggling with the monthly chore of reconciling their checkbook with the bank statement.

Concluding that others had the same problem, he posted notices at nearby Stanford University seeking a computer science grad student looking to make some money writing a program. His search led him to Tom Proulx who took Cook’s idea and wrote the code for the original Quicken software. The two then launched Intuit.

Still Working away at His Computer

We Get Creative and My Youngest Son Earns $200

I had experience with both of these motivations a couple of years ago when my, then 15 year old, son wanted to make money but was too young to apply for most jobs. I directed him to some survey sites on the Internet and he not only made a few dollars answering surveys but also found some additional sites on his own.

Suddenly one site, that targeted teenagers, offered a chance to make $200 by writing a short blog entry each day for five consecutive days. I checked it out with him and saw nothing wrong with it (also didn’t see how the project would generate enough money to justify paying $200 each to a large group of teens but that was their problem) and told him to go for it. The first few days were no brainers as he was asked to describe his favorite snack, then what snacks he ate that day, etc. I now understood what the company paying for the project was doing but still couldn’t see how they could justify the expense.

Then, on Friday, he received the instructions for the last blog entry to be posted the following Monday and I suddenly saw that the $200 stipends were chump change in return for the potential payoff to the client company. Monday’s assignment was to come up with an idea for a brand new snack.

Like Scott Cook, the company had money to invest in ideas but needed an idea and, like an individual struggling with an obstacle, my fifteen year old had a problem and had to invent his way out of it. My son had already invested four days of work in the project, but to get paid, he needed an invention.

My, then seventeen, year old and I sat down with him at breakfast on Saturday, brainstormed and came up with a workable concept – we just had to describe the concept not actually produce a working proto type.

Since my fifteen year old loved pizza (he would eat it three times a day if I let him) and having just changed the battery in my other son’s cell phone, we got creative and designed a pocket pizza “oven” with vacum packed, bite-size pizza snacks that could be heated in the oven anywhere. Our idea for the oven was a Palm Pilot size device powered by a rechargable cell phone battery which, when turned on, would generate enough heat to warm the pre-cooked pizza snack. The snacks would be pre-cooked and and packaged in a manner that allowed them to be inserted into the oven and heated.

We provided a description of both the concept and the parts needed that was in sufficient detail to enable an engineer to actually build a working proto-type. My son received his check for $200 a couple of weeks later and the company received full rights to the concept.

Since we lacked the means to exploit the idea and had no idea as to whether or not it would fly in the market, I had no problem with the fact that the agreement I had allowed him to enter into at the beginning required that we give up all rights to his work. Besides, when I quickly divided the time he invested in writing for the blog (including the few minutes that my other son and I donated at the breakfast table) his hourly pay for the week’s work came out to about ten times the minimum wage. Not bad for a fifteen year old who was too young to get a real job!

NOTEWhile it made economic sense to have my son give up his intellectual property rights in this invention, this is not always the case with other intellectual property created by our children.  Click here to read my Hub entitled Children as Owners and Creators of Intellectual Property to see other things to be considered when dealing with intellectual property created by us or our children.


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    • profile image

      Meda 5 years ago

      WOW Such a great story...Proud of your son.

    • profile image

      kimberly 5 years ago

      cool. im doing a project for school and this helped me. I suddenly got a great idea and i think it will work.You never know where it might lead you to. Potential ideas come to your mind when you don't actually need them.

    • WhitneyNZ profile image

      WhitneyNZ 6 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Great hub. I wonder if the snack food company used any of the ideas they received from the teenage bloggers...

    • profile image

      keonna simpson 6 years ago

      it didn't really help im only 11 and i really don't know how to do all that stuff

    • KrisHudgens profile image

      KrisHudgens 6 years ago from San Francisco

      While necessity may be the mother of invention, make sure your necessity is a shared necessity of enough people to make your invention marketable. Otherwise you may have what I call a MacGyver invention on your hands. A MacGyver invention is one that is helpful in a pinch, but not necessarily helpful to the mainstream.

    • profile image

      maddy757 6 years ago

      Fun with learning should always be encouraged. You never know where it might lead you to. Potential ideas come to your mind when you don't actually need them. So i think your Hub was really cool and an example to many who are out there thinking about ideas and not doing anything about it.

    • Ann Lee profile image

      Ann Lee 7 years ago

      I have had several ideas in my lifetime. One was a database to store insurance education, trips, and bonuses received. I got a flashlight as a reward for this one. Another (which you can read about at AssociatedContent.Com) was a trio organizer handbag/shoulderbag. Another was a mini artists' paint brush to attach to a car keychain that could be used to clean the dirt around the gas cap when pumping gas. That's just a few examples, but, when I contacted a patent lawyer about these, he said unless I came up with an idea that could not be easily copied and changed, it wasn't worth bothering with. So, chemical formulas, or highly technical/engineering stuff would be worth patenting. That's because the patent laws are so loose that many ideas have one small change made to them--and it is no longer your patent. That's how the Chinese get away with copying designer purses--they aren't exactly the same.

    • profile image

      scheng1 7 years ago

      Actually coming up with ideas is the easy part, acting on the idea is the difficult part.

    • wrenfrost56 profile image

      wrenfrost56 8 years ago from U.K.

      That's so cool, your son must be very bright and you very proud. I love inventions, ideas and concepts. I have yet to get a light bulb or phone sized pizza like idea but maybe some day I will. I really enjoyed reading your hub.

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      emma - good luck with your project and I am glad my Hub was of some help to you.

    • profile image

      emma 8 years ago

      i think this was really cool. im doing a project for school and this helped me. I suddenly got a great idea and i think it will work.thank you