The general process of inventing involves systematic and practical steps that might include linear and nonlinear thinking. You might think that only people with innate artistic skills are creative and that only geniuses become innovators and inventors, but much of creativity is driven by being immersed in a practice. You can build and foster your own creativity. Your idea of an inventor might be someone like Johannes Gutenberg, who developed the printing press. The spread of printing ultimately redrew the map of Europe and resulted in the foundation of new centers of learning. Gutenberg’s supposed spark actually was more of a slow burn. He was creative and innovative—one of history’s most famous inventors—but his printing press, like all other inventions, was a synthesis of existing technologies. Gutenberg’s most important innovation was his use of moveable, interchangeable metal type instead of entire hand-carved wooden blocks of text (Figure 4.14). Perfecting his printing process took decades and left him all but broke.44 The notion of the inventor’s single stroke of genius is mostly myth. The people that history remembers usually worked very hard to develop their creativity, to become familiar with the processes and tools that were ripe for innovation in their time, and ultimately to make something so unique that society recognizes it as an invention.
One model for developing an invention is the first five steps of a plan adapted from Sourcify.com, which specializes in connecting product developers with manufacturers.45 This process is succinct and includes suggestions for building a team along the way
Step 1: Educate Yourself
Before your inventive product can do battle with other inventions, you will need to educate yourself. To prepare yourself to weather the competition, you need to learn as much as you can about the current investing climate, current product development opportunities, and current leadership approaches. Even if you are not deeply interested in leadership dogma, it helps to know what the current trends are in leadership and product development. To succeed as an inventor in a vast marketplace, you need to understand the rules, written and unwritten, of the industry and competitive landscape. The product development process can be quite involved. The process can vary by industry and by availability of resources.
Step 2: Stay Organized
Most tip sheets for inventors suggest that you find a method for organizing your creativity so that you don’t spend time trying to remember previous ideas, plans, and decisions. You must organize information related to your business idea, your business plan, and your potential teammates in the process.
Step 3: Conduct Market Research
Market research is an obvious must, but many entrepreneurs fail to go as deeply as they should in researching their competition. You must be aware of current and future competitors so that you are prepared to compete in the marketplace when you are actually ready. Being the best on paper now won’t be much use when you enter the marketplace with an MVP in six to eight months in competition with competitors’ new products and updates.
Step 4: Conduct Patent Research
If you expect to apply for a patent, take the time to read up on policies and procedures. Officials in the US Patent Office, or in similar bureaus in other countries, decide whether an invention is worthy of receiving a patent. A patentable invention must meet the criteria of being novel, useful, and nonobvious; it must be proven to be workable.47 Those three standards—novel, useful, and nonobvious—are subjective. So is the concept of invention, but conceptualizing invention this way sets a high bar for entrepreneurs who truly wish to make a social impact. Developing an invention that is patentable also creates a barrier against competition, which can make the difference between business success and failure.
Step 5: Develop a Prototype
Developing a prototype can be the most fun or the most tedious part of inventing. Much of your attitude toward developing a prototype depends on available resources, technology, and expertise. In this text, we reference the concept of the lean startup from time to time. In the lean startup model, the prototype is most often an MVP. As we saw earlier, an MVP is a version of your invention that may not be polished or complete in terms of how you envisioned it, but it functions well enough and looks good enough that you can begin to market it with reasonable hopes that it will be adopted. For other inventions, you may need to build a more advanced prototype. This requires serious investment capital, but the payoff is that users will interact with a version of the product that looks and functions more like what you had in mind during your ideation phase. As an inventor, you are responsible for establishing quality control minimums for your product. You may have to compromise on your vision, but you should not compromise on basic functionality or basic levels of quality in materials.
The need to Develop the Solution is the third of the seven strands in the improvement model. It underlines the importance of developing the solution for the system to be improved, following understanding the system and defining the problem, and as a precursor to collecting the evidence. As a result, it is expected that such a solution will be developed in the intermediate stages of the improvement process and revised, as appropriate, as the process develops.
Developing the solution is essential for the successful delivery of an improvement project. It is particularly important to develop the solution in the middle of the improvement process and to update the description as necessary during the remainder of the process. The Understand, Design, Deliver and Sustain stages of an improvement process were previously described within the Introduction section, where each stage will likely comprise a preliminary activity, followed by a number of stage activities. For the Develop the Solution strand of the Understand phase, the preliminary activity is entitled Describe the Big Idea. For the Design, Delivery and Sustain stages, the concepts/solutions should be reviewed and updated as necessary to support the ongoing improvement process.
Consider Pre-existing Solutions The identification, review and presentation of existing solutions with the potential to satisfy the demands of the requirements Purpose: to consider pre-existing solutions that have the potential to meet the system requirements Inputs: Define Requirements, Stimulate Ideas Tools: Morphological Chart Outputs: a list of pre-existing solutions with potential to satisfy the demands of the requirements
The early evaluation of new concepts to see if they satisfy the demands and meet the wishes of the requirements Purpose: to make models of new concepts to enable early evaluation against the system requirements Inputs: Consider Pre-existing Solutions, Filter Ideas, Develop Concepts Tools: tbd Outputs: a number of models and evidence of their behaviour against the demands and wishes of the requirements Top tips: Produce a physical or virtual demonstration of the concept Consider different models for different purposes Consider quick tests with rough models to resolve critical issues The Understand, Design, Deliver and Sustain stages of an improvement process were previously described within the Introduction section, where each stage will likely comprise a preliminary activity, followed by a number of stage activities. For the Develop the Solution strand of the Understand phase, the preliminary activity is entitled Describe the Big Idea. For the Design, Delivery and Sustain stages, the concepts/solutions should be reviewed and updated as necessary to support the ongoing improvement process.