How to Come Up With Ideas for Inventions
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
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!
NOTE: While 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.