What if I…? Is there a better way to…? If I put this with that and… Why hasn’t anybody thought of how to…?
That’s how it starts. Invention isn’t always some big, grand process; often, it’s just someone looking at something and knowing there has to be a better way to do it. Granted, there are still cases where someone comes up with something completely brand new and groundbreaking, but many of today’s inventions are simple adaptations or improvements of something that already exists. What’s the thought process behind it all, and how can would-be inventors leverage the process to come up with the next big design?
Find a Need and Fill It
Take the common aglet. What is an aglet, you may ask? It is the little hard plastic or metal tip at the end of a shoelace. Someone, somewhere, at some point in time (the actual inventor of the aglet is unknown) sat down to tie his or her shoes, and for the upteenth time, got frustrated with the frayed end of the laces. Then came the thought, “There has to be a better way”—and voilà, the aglet was born.
That is the way of the inventor. We go through life constantly on the lookout for how things—things the non-inventor simply takes as is—can be better or more efficient. This could be something completely new and innovative like the automobile, or something that improves on an item or device already in use, like the automatic transmission.
Develop this natural tendency. Wear it like a pair of glasses, filtering everything you interact with through it. For more common personality traits of inventors, read this article at Invents.com.
A Design Isn’t Finished Until…
… somebody is using it. This quote by Brenda Laurel says it perfectly. You have the idea, now what do you do with it? Once you do a patent search with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and get confirmation that the idea is safe to pursue, it’s time to develop a prototype. This is where many inventors get stuck, because not everyone is or has access to an architect or mechanical engineer.
The easiest solution is to enlist help. There are many companies that can, for instance, help you turn your great idea into a workable design. Maybe you need help finding the perfect o-ring to create a vacuum seal. The moment you start to believe that you have to do it all on your own, things tend to get overwhelming.
Protect Your Ideas
Keep an invention journal or record of your ideas. Make agreements with people that help you. Patent or trademark your ideas and prototypes with the USPTO. Remember, with more than seven billion people on the planet, there is a good chance that someone else is thinking of the same thing you are, so make sure you get the credit.