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Millions from the Mind
Alan R. Tripp
The Human Side of Invention
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could unfailingly identify winning inventions and discoveries at the earliest stages--back the beauties with maximum money and manpower--and kill the fatally flawed innovations before they chew up big chunks of our resources?
Well, we can't quite do that. But in talking with inventors who have converted their creativity to cash and to entrepreneurs who have turned the inventions of others into going businesses and to corporate managers who have scored consistently with new products, these commonalities for success emerge. Let's call them the WINvention Ground Rules:
1. The best inventors are pig-ass stubborn about what they are doing and, especially, about the feasibility of their discovery. What would be insufferable obtuseness in the typical business person is simply a creative mind that sees the solution so clearly it will brook no opposition. Sometimes this is masked by diffidence and politeness; sometimes it is rank brusqueness. Sometimes, of course, "dead certain" turns into "dead wrong." No matter. Without this quality of fierce belief in the functional value of the invention, the chances of creating great monetary value are slim.
2. The best inventors--and the business team around them--need to understand what motivates the creative mind, and act on that knowledge. There are only three motivators: the challenge of the work itself, the honor and satisfaction of succeeding, and the money.
Perhaps because of their academic training, many engineers and chemists choose to think of themselves as "scientists" or "research & development" people rather than "inventors." It may be that the image of Rube Goldberg, the cartoonist and author who offered world-class complicated devices to solve everyday problems, hangs over the word inventor. Yet of all the successful inventors I have met, I have never seen one who did not think that his or her inventiveness should be publicly recognized, perhaps even in The National Inventors Hall of Fame.
It may be that a history of disappointment affects inventors' financial expectations--in Tom McMahon's book, Loving Little Egypt, Mabel Bell, Alexander Graham Bell's widow sends Mourly Vold--the natural genius who has broken into and improved reception on long distance networks--to study with electrical scientist Nicolai Tesla. Tesla reads the letter of introduction and tells Vold, a.k.a.. Little Egypt, "You're welcome to stay with me as long as you like, and learn whatever I can teach you. I should tell you at the beginning, however, that there isn't any money in being an inventor. The boys at the bank get it all in the end."
Nonetheless, as I hope you've deduced from the book you're now reading, there is gold in invention and money can be a powerful force in moving inventors, albeit love of the inventing process is indispensable, too. And inventors who aim for wealth need not be surprised that the people who turn the invention into profits will insist on a share of the proceeds.
3. The best inventions, the explosive ones, can come from one of three directions:
• A crying need, perceived and attacked until the invention emerges such as the use of AZT for the treatment of AIDS;
• A discovery, whether serendipitous or purposeful, applied to a marketing opportunity such as Wilson Greatbatch's realization that his electrical stimulator invention would make a perfect heart pacemaker;
• Or an application of what is already known to a new purpose such as the use of Goodyear's vulcanized rubber not just for tires but to replace hob-nailed heels on shoes.
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