How do you start an invention?


I’ve had a few invention ideas, good ones, bad ones and some crazy ones. Usually when I have an idea the first thing I do is get very excited, ask one or two friends what they think and start sketching different concepts ready to move towards prototyping. I’m starting to learn that maybe taking a step back and doing a bit more research is the better way to go.

What are your thoughts?

And how do you start your invention ideas?


I think you’re right in suggesting a heavy focus on research early on in the design and inventive process. However I also believe research, especially in the current age of information-overload, can sometimes lead to analysis-paralysis or worse - steer the creative process down the wrong path. In my experience, the best way to move through the inventive process is through iterative “sprints” of full-blown creative exploration that generate something concrete like a drawing or model that allows the inventor to then validate the idea against expert opinion and further refinement. At this stage, the biggest danger to an idea, especially in the early iterations, is influence by either non-experts or (maybe even worse) experts who don’t like thinking out-of-the-box.
Years ago, I was hired to develop a series of design concepts for a client that wanted an entirely new look for their retail communication devices. Unfortunately, when I showed up to present concepts, the company’s head of engineering proceeded to spend most of the meeting explaining why their current components wouldn’t fit inside the revamped enclosures. When I pressed him on this issue, he finally conceded that the components could be reconfigured, but it was clear he had no interest in doing so. Had the VP of marketing not gently reminded him that the goal of the initiative was to let new ideas drive the conversation rather than current technology, the project would have died right there . . . and there’s nothing more sad than watching a new idea be crushed by the status quo (and grumpy old-school engineers).
Ultimately, I think the act of invention, like any act, improves with practice. The more you do it, the more you figure out what works for you. I’ve even found that the process can vary a lot just based on the nature of the idea. Regardless, nothing of great value is invented in a vacuum, and a good inventor should always learn when to reach out and engage other people with both expertise in the respective area and, perhaps even more importantly, a passion for new ideas.