Invention and Innovation

Bhaskar Gupta, B.Tech 5th sem, IIIT Allahabad.


How does one prepare to become an inventor? What does an "Aha!" feel like? What do repeat inventors do?

  It's really fun to shout up naked “ EUREKA !! EUREKA !!” and come up with new ideas. Since the invention of wheel, technology has advanced above the seven seas. Yet the most exciting phrase one inventor hears over his inventions at first sight is “That's Funny!” We see most of inventions have been taken place in developed countries. What it's in those people which is not in ours? The game is all about how do you approach and pay attention to your funny ideas. World's top most research competition of ACM viz SIGGRAPH Student Research Competition 2004 winner at Graduate level was Leonardo Bonanni, Chia-Hsun Lee of MIT Media LAB US . They had made “SmartSink: Context-Aware Work Surface” which is an intelligent sink that will automatically adjust height of wash basin as per users height for his comfort. It has many others features like automatic water flow and temperature adjustment of water. This wash basin is hence equipped with CCD camera, stepper motor, a PC, a PIC micro-controller, solid state sensors. … A great invention for making comfortable multi-user washbasin!

The point in above is not to make fun of it, but to realize where we lack in our view of seeing and doing things. Had it been the same in India , none would have ever thought to implement it. The main point in invention is “ Why did you develop this idea? What were the science and technology trends? How does this work?” You define a problem, and you try to think of its solution which in turn becomes an invention!

Invention is all abut “Walking in the dark”; you are stuck infinite times and fail infinite times. Many times you feel there's nothing left to invent… And this is something you will never find in stories of inventions. The well-known stories are about the glorious parts, when someone has a breakthrough. But those stories miss the reality that invention comes in phases. Inventors have periods of great inspiration, but they also have periods when they're dry and confused. And it might sound strange, but believe me that repeat inventors have different methods for dealing with their dry periods than new inventors; there are hidden hazards for new inventors.

How is this hazard? Suppose you are a new inventor and have a terrific "Aha!" The emotional experience of an "Aha!" can be overwhelming. You also get a lot of attention from people. Money flows and your projects start growing, and so on. The hazard — and it's not at all unusual — is to believe that the great invention comes from your genius. You must be great! Look what you have accomplished.

This is a hazard because a dry period eventually follows. When that happens, confidence can ebb. If you believe that invention comes from your genius, then what is at risk during a dry period is that your genius is gone. What's wrong? Everything is at risk. Maybe you aren't a genius after all! That's the hazard.

People who have gone through the creative cycle many times have grown beyond that. They no longer attribute insight to their genius. They pay attention to the conditions under which ideas arise. When they hit a dry spot, they say. "Oh, dry again. Let's see. What do I do when I'm in a dry spot?"

The conditions that inspire good ideas are different for different people. Repeat inventors learn what works for them. Some inventors talk with more people. Some inventors immerse themselves in the data. Some inventors change their scenery, or take a shower or go for a walk. They sit back in totally different environment for two months or so. Once you understand that, new inventors can work through well too.

The situation in which you invent can be divided into three regions: the slow beginning, the rapidly rising middle, and the peaking at the top. And then a sudden fall of endgame. Companies, business also go through this S curve. The pattern is that companies in the rapidly growing part of the curve are busy building market share. They don't have time for breakthroughs. At the beginning of the curve they need innovation to create a business. When companies approach the peak of the curve and recognize that their business strategies are approaching an endgame, they shift gears and start seeking invention and innovation again.

In developing countries, the main reason behind lack of invention is “The Innovator's Dilemma”. It arises at different parts of the curve and for other kinds of organizations the inventor works for. Innovation takes place in an ecology in which big technology companies are one kind of important player. And this is why you see the difference in thinking and inventions happening in US, and here in India .

Nonetheless, every person is creative and has the power to invent. The key to invention is very simple but also fundamental. Just ask yourself two questions are "What is possible?" and "What is needed?” Once a person identifies a valuable problem, this is the "what is needed" question. When it explores what could be done with emerging technologies, this is the "what is possible" question. The magic is in the dance.

It not only implies to individuals but also to business, companies, and organizations. The key point is team work in a company, organization but. The business and marketing people tend to have strong insights about what is needed, but they don't have a good grasp of what is possible, especially if it involves advanced technology. So they limit their search to familiar paths. The technology people have a better handle on what is possible, but less insight as to what is needed. When you bring these groups together productively, the marketing guys might say "I didn't know that was possible" and the researchers might say "I didn't know you needed that." A synthesis becomes possible when you bring people together in a focused way around valuable problems. The game is all about seeing things differently.

At last, to sum up the minds and how to approach inventions depends on individuals. Survey and study shows there were four main methods that inventors used, sometimes in combination. One is, some people focus heavily on "what is needed?" and tend to frame everything that they see during the day as part of their search for solving their current problem. By holding the problem in the back of their mind, they see the world differently as part of their search for a solution. We call that method "need-driven.” Next is “Remix” and people just take up every technology and try to mix up each other, apply permutation and combination to each other and come up with better solution!. There are two more methods in which great inventors approach…. Invent or discover yourself!!!