Tips for Inventing

Taking it seriously.

If you are serious about inventing this page is for you. Everyone invents—naturally—but there are some amongst us who want to invent as a career, to pursue it professionally. This page has tips for inventing, for identifying opportunities to invent and innovate (improving and adapting the raw invention to new situations).

The first tip is, if you have a serious invention in mind, which you think will make your fortune, don’t post it here. If you have to share your idea with someone else, which inevitably you will, make sure you tell them you are doing so ‘in confidence’. To be absolutely sure put this condition down in writing. Doing this is a way of protecting your intellectual capital and intellectual property rights. You can seek further information in the links section of the website.

The idea of invention here is not a formal one, recognised by Patent Officers or Lawyers. If you think you have an invention go to an Intellectual Property lawyer, or follow the advice of  your national patent office (for UK see here). What we are interested in at this extreme inventing blog, are crazy, fun, incredible (meaning difficult to believe someone would actually make them), good examples of inventing as a social process, but which are already ‘out there’.

Emotion is the true mother of invention.

We are all familiar with the phrase “Need is the mother of invention”, but what is need, how does it manifest itself, and when? Need and want, are, of course, feelings, they are emotions. If you feel discontent, of you feel discomfort, if you feel pain, these are all indicators that the activity, or situation, or process, with which you are engaged, or in which you are a stakeholder or a potential beneficiary of its result/outcome/output, requires improvement. The psychologist Timo Jarvilehto says that innovation, by which he means invention, is a result of negative emotions, like discomfort, like frustration, like pain. Without negative emotions there is no incentive to improve. Some object to this idea, saying that positive emotions also provide an incentive to improve, but do they? For example, if you hear a fantastic trumpet player you feel elated, perhaps exhilarated, and these positive feelings motivate you to go play the instrument, or improve your technique. However, this does not lead to a new instrument. And frustration, even anger, is a definite motivation to practice to improve performance. Once you have mastered the technique, then playing becomes a positively emotioning experience. If you want to repeat an emotional ‘high’, you want to do more of the same, not something different. If you invent one thing, it gives a ‘high’ and so you want to invent something else. However, that something-else does not flow directly from feeling content or happy, but from the opposite. So for me, and for Honda, negative emotions are the true mother of invention, as this  advert famously demonstrates.

In practice, you’ll find inventing and innovating (adapting the invention to real/new situations) an emotional roller coaster ride. Negative feelings, which provide the initial internal drive, followed by the elation of believing you have a solution, and back to negative as you test your ideas out and find they don’t work, followed by more positive emotioning when you realize there is a solution after all, if you just tweak it here and there.

Problems and emotions

There is a fundamental connection between emotions, problems, and relationships. Whatever we do, and whenever we do it, we will be in a relationship with something and/or someone. For example. If you are a keen do-it-yourself kind of person, when you use a power tool or a hand tool you will be in a relationship with it. The tool, lets say it’s a wood chisel, is also in a relationship with whatever kind of wood material it’s being used on. Frustration might arise if the chisel is not sharp enough, or if your technique, which has to do with your ability to control a tool, which is in turn about continuously adjusting your relationship  with it (like your grip), is not adequate enough. In both instances, the problem arises because the chisel, or your body, fails to relate to the material or the tool respectively. In such situations you feel you have what we call a problem. A problem arises when the relationships are not perfect. In such situations, we think about what the ideal set of relationships would be, and the ideal, the alternative, we call a solution. Thus a solution to the chisel failing to relate effectively or efficiently with a material is to sharpen it, or to replace it with a sharper tool, or to choose softer material (pine instead of mahogany). In other words, the simplest kinds of solutions are modifications to a system that brings it closer to a conceived ideal set of relationships. The best way to think of problems then is to think about the weaknesses in the relationships between system components. In any case of tool using, the components are: i) your physical body, and the way it relates to the tool; ii) the tool, and the way it relates to the object it is being used on: and iii) the object that the tool acts upon. If you think the system can be improved by modifying the design of the tool, then you have an opportunity either to innovate (modify its design), or to invent, by designing a completely new form of tool, and, thus, system.

If you have frustrations arising from relationships with people, say in a work situation, what solutions are available to you? You can improve your relationship, by talking through differences and making an agreement on how to improve it, or you can remove yourself, say, by avoiding that person, or seek some means of removing them from the work situation. One very common example is to replace a person with a machine. This is a managerial solution.

Conditions for extreme inventing and innovating.

You feel you have a problem, or you recognise and feel someone else’s problem.

You feel discomfort, discontent, frustration, pain, anger, yourself or on behalf of someone else in respect of a situation or set of relationships, the latter more accurately described as a system.

A frustrating lack of money. Reluctance to spend money, and feel great after saving money.

Wish to repeat the positive emotions from previous successful inventing and problem solving (and saving money).

Having bits and pieces to hand, or easily obtained, and/or adapted, from which you can make a prototype.

If you do manage to bring those bits and pieces together to form a working prototype, then you have demonstrated at least a degree of competence in systems/product design, which is the fifth condition for successful extreme invention.

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