The Invention Addict 12 Step Program to Invent—Going from Inspiration to Innovation.

This is a series of posts on the 12 steps how to invent a product. A DIY class for inventors.

The third step is IDEATION. Yes, it is a real word!

Wikipedia says, “Design ideation can be seen as a matter of generating, developing and communicating ideas, where ‘idea’ is understood as a basic element of thought that can be either visual, concrete or abstract. As such it is an essential part of the design process, both in education and practice”

You’re now inspired to fix a problem for people and relieve them of their frustration. So how exactly, to you ideate? (now it’s a verb).

Here are some tips:

Don’t think about it

Yes, you read correctly. Let you subconscious mind work on it. You will find that sometimes you get an idea out of the blue. Often times it may be in the shower. The sound of water stimulates your mind. I like to take a walks near a babbling brook in the woods near my house to listen to the water flowing over the rocks.

Ever hear the story of the ancient Greek Archimedes? He was trying to solve a problem for the king and figure out if the king’s crown was indeed pure gold. As the story goes (with some poetic license), he racked his brain, probably annoying his wife with his pacing back and forth and muttering, “how in the world will I ever solve this problem”. After a few days of this his wife says, “Archimedes, stop thinking so hard, go take a bath”.

So he listens to his wife, he was after all, a smart guy. When he got in tub, he noticed the water level increased due to his body displacing the water. He figured out how he could tell if the crown was pure gold. Archimedes then took to the streets naked, so excited by his discovery that he had forgotten to dress, crying “Eureka!” in Greek meaning “I have found it!”.

Think Really Hard
Be like Winnie the Pooh. “Think, think, think.” Go to your thinking spot, that place in the woods by the brook, a coffee shop you like, someplace different. Visual and auditory stimuli will exercise your brain. Caffeine has also shown to boost creativity but don’t over do it. Inventing is work, work at it. Try to figure out a solution.

Brainstorm
Even if it is just you, you can still brainstorm. A mind map is a tool you can use to brainstorm. You can use software or just a piece of paper. Start with your problem statement in the center. Write down words that come to you. Connect the words to each other to show relationships. It’s like branches of a tree growing out and splitting off. Each new word or phrase may spark another word that will lead to a solution.

Sketch or Doodle
Do I really need to explain?

Steal I mean, borrow an idea
Look for something similar, take a solution and apply it to something else. Johannes Gutenberg took the wine press and his using his experience in metalworking using punches and dies, to invent the printing press.

Bounce ideas off someone
Not just anyone unless you want to start handing out NDAs to the mailman and the barista at Starbucks. I talk to my wife and 11 year old son; they are honest, sometimes too honest. I asked them to give it to me straight and I gave them permission to be honest and I promised not to get too mad. Sometimes they have great ideas of their own or they will challenge me to re-think my assumptions.

Do it Better
See if you can improve upon something. Make it less expensive, reduce the number of parts, or get the same end result by doing it differently.

Mashup
This term refers to software applications but I’m borrowing it. The trick her is to put together two things that you would not ordinarily think would go together. Like peanut butter and chocolate. A camera and a cell phone. A tape measure and a chalk line (actual issued patent).

Be a CEO
CEO Chief Experiment Officer. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Here are the steps:

  • Try
  • Fail, but always learn
  • Try Again

Don’t ask an expert
Sometimes not asking for help is good because “experts” will tell you it can’t be done. Over 20 years ago I had the idea for an electric car that would recharge the batteries by “reversing” the motor and using it as a generator to slow the car down when it stopped. I asked one of my professors about it. He said it would not work. What did I know; I was just a 3rd year engineering student. He was a PhD. Today, hybrid cars use this concept … darn!

Conclusion
You may think you are done when you arrive at a solution to the problem. Just remember, the solution may change. Don’t get emotionally attached to your ideas. Notice the plural. IDEAS, you will get lots of them, some good, some you’ll say “what was I thinking?”.

The next step in the journey is EXPLORATION. Can you guess what we will be exploring? Think homework.

Summary
Here are the 12 steps to invent a product:
1. Realization
2. Frustration
3. Ideation
4. Exploration
5. Investigation
6. Simulation
7. Productization
8. Confirmation
9. Communication
10. Conversation
11. Negotiation
12. Celebration

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