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Millions from the Mind
Alan R. Tripp
A Tradition of Ingenuity
Well painted in the roseate reporting of American history books are such names as Eli Whitney, the Boston lawyer who invented the cotton gin; Samuel Colt who achieved a new level of mass production through accurate, interchangeable revolver parts; George Eastman who made the first widely popular cameras with roll film; Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray who not only fought over which of them invented the telephone first but found time for working on many other inventions such as the gramophone and the predecessor of today's telefax machines; Thomas Alva Edison who created a commercializable light bulb and pioneered the concept of an "invention laboratory"; Wallace Hume Carothers who worked for DuPont and created nylon and Roy J. Plunkett, another DuPont scientist, who discovered Teflon® when tetrafluoroethelene was accidentally polymerized when stored in pressurized cylinders at dry-ice temperatures; Elisha Graves Otis who invented the first elevator that stopped itself if the cable snapped; and let us not forget Henry Ford who certainly did not invent the automobile but who contributed much to its development not the least of which was in a car in which he beat famous race car driver (and automobile manufacturer) Alexander Winton in a 1901 race. Henry juiced his two-cylinder motor with his patented rudimentary fuel injection system and spark plugs with porcelain insulators that he had made by a Detroit dentist.
You may have recognized most of the names just mentioned. But can you identify Frank Whittle and Hans von Ohain? They invented the jet engine and taught the world to fly without propellers. Marshall Goodrich? He proved that fluoride would reduce by half the number of cavities in your children's teeth. Wilson Greatbatch? He developed the first practical pacemaker to keep your Uncle Joe's heart beating regularly. Raymond Kurzweil? He made it possible for blind people to "read" by an electronic scanner that reads the printed page aloud. Or, on a more mundane level, Herb Allen? He did a lot of us a favor by inventing a device to remove the cork from a bottle of wine without strain, pain or crumbling.
What distinguishes these people is not only that they made a contribution to the world, they made money for themselves. Dozens of such discoveries have not only made possible new products and improved products--and often cheaper products--but became the wellsprings of wealth for individuals and the driving force for the American economy.
Today, however, turning an innovation into a marketing miracle is no longer simply a matter of hard work and a modicum of luck. The moment of invention, that "eureka moment," is only the trigger for The Business Side of Invention: the testing, the financing, the production scale-up, the marketing, the patenting, all the actions necessary to turn the discovery into a commercial success while simultaneously protecting the invention owner's position--in sum, the actions that turn creativity into cash.
Why many inventors fail to convert their original thinking into large bank accounts may relate to the design of the human brain. People of intense creativity are operating at full power with the brain's right hemisphere, the side believed to generate inspirational ideas. The crass confrontations of the business side demand attention from the less-exercised left hemisphere; and the result may be schizophrenia or, at least, mixed emotions.
Of course, this is not true of all inventors. There are geniuses who perform magnificently from either hemisphere. But millions from the mind are mostly made by inventors who reach out and clutch someone to complement their own ingenuity with inventive ways of managing the business issues.
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