How to Think Like an Inventor

Inventor.jpgIntel has a program where employees can submit inventions for consideration to be filed as a patent.  It is a very cool program because having a patent is a very compelling way to prove that you are actually an inventor.  But, many ideas get rejected, often leaving the prospective inventors feeling dejected.   As a result many of these folks simply stop inventing.

I know all about rejection.  Over the course of a few years I had written and submitted 50 inventions to various Intel intellectual property committees.  All were rejected.  Now, that was a long time ago.  My track record, as of the last few years, has improved substantially for taking inventions through our committees and on the path to patenting.  In fact, I now teach classes on "How to Think Like an Inventor."

Reflecting on my own experiences as well as observing the behavior of inventors across Intel Corporation I have found some significant differences between prolific inventors and those that either give or never try.

The top five differences are:

Do not be afraid of failing.  This is a big one.  In fact, this listed first for a reason.  Prospective inventors often have all sort of fears, "What if they think my idea is dumb? What if they reject my idea? What if someone already invented it?"  The rule is simple.  You will fail.  You will fail a lot.  And that is OK!  Sure, I grind my teeth every time I have an invention rejected but then I move on.

Invent, don't engineer.  This one is very tricky.  How does one determine if an idea is an invention or simply good engineering.  Ask yourself, "Is there magic in the idea?  Did you come up with an idea that  others, who are similarly skilled, would not be expected to think of also?"

Consider all the data in the system.  Every invention is a system of sorts.  It will have inputs, actions and outputs.  For the inputs you should go through a rigorous exercise to identify all of the different types of data in the system.  This is actually a big part of the classes that I give.  Many people very casually consider the data available to them and therefore overlook other possibilities.

Imagine beyond the next iteration.  Any product that we have in our hands or on store shelves was conceived of some time ago.  To "invent" a minor improvement of a known system falls into the realm of "non-novel" or "obvious".  Look beyond that next step, that next iteration.  Think of how a product or system will evolve as new technologies evolve and converge.

Finally, are you even working on a problem?  It is very easy, especially in high tech, to invent some sort of gizmo and then to start looking for a problem that the gizmo will solve.  Start by looking for problems and then invent the gizmo.

Now, go find some problems and invent solutions.  Good luck and fail a lot.