The Secrets of Successful Inventors

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We all know the names of Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Donald Trump and Steve Jobbs. These people exhibit certain characteristics and methods of many successful inventors.  Although we might not picture Donald Trump as an inventor, he has been an inventor of his own wealth.  

Many successful inventors are excessively curious people. They do not just experience an event; they also ask why the event takes place and what possible broader implications it can have. 

  • Inventors are not afraid of failure, since they realize that every supposed failure brings them closer to success. Thomas Edison, for example, knew 1,800 ways not to build a light bulb. In fact, Edison told everyone that his unworkable attempts to invent the light bulb were not mistakes but rather tests that helped him understand which methods didn't work. Similarly, Columbus thought he was finding a shorter route to India, but he did not write off his efforts when he landed in North America.
  • Few new ideas are born in a conforming environment. Being playful, frivolous, foolish, ambiguous and being willing to think contrary to the majority are important trademarks of a creative person. For example, Phillip Reiss, a German, invented a machine that could transmit music in 1861. He was days away from inventing the telephone, but he gave up. Why? Because German communication experts convinced him that there was no market for such a device, since the telegraph was good enough. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone 15 years later. Similarly, Bill Gates was treated as a boasting eccentric when he declared that he wanted the personal computer to become something owned by every household.
  • Successful inventors test their products before they begin to market them. They test them on family and friends, but also on strangers that fit their target market.
  • The overwhelming majority of new inventions do not make it to the market. This is not because they are not useful, but because they are marketed incorrectly. The help of a marketing professional who genuinely engages with the product can help propel the invention forward.
  • Many modern inventors consult inventor support groups for advice on patent/intellectual property services, licensing, and fundraising. The idea here is to learn from those who have already achieved what they want to achieve.

A successful invention, thus, involves everything from raw creativity to logical step-by-step fundraising and marketing strategy, and a successful inventor is one who is sufficiently flexible to meet these varied challenges.