view updated

Inspiration Is Overrated!


Here's something that isn't on everyone's shopping list: a coffee mug that irons clothes. It's just one of a multitude of inventions that most of us have never heard of. Each of those forgotten contraptions was probably someone's bright idea - a flash of inspiration experienced while walking in the woods, an idea guaranteed to change the world. So what went wrong?

Some inventions are so much a part of everyday life we forget that they started off as someone's bright idea. Others are long forgotten or remembered only as being colossal duds.

For every invention that actually makes it to production, there are thousands that don't. The line between the bizarre and the ingenious is often very thin. History is filled with examples of new inventions that supporters thought would be transformational but turned out to be just minor fads.

Experts say that the odds are stacked astronomically against inventors, and that no amount of marketing can turn a situation around. The number of failed inventions reinforces how hard it is for inventors to make the leap from idea to marketable product.

Let's look at some figures. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are about 1.5 million products that have patents. Perhaps 3,000 of those make money. A noted business magazine states that only one in 5,000 inventions succeeds in the marketplace. This estimate is ten times lower than the one from the Trademark Office!

What explains the high rate of failure? Is there something the inventors failed to see? The answer is yes: They failed to see how much work is involved in getting a product of the the ground. Someone once said that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. That is true for invention, too. Hard work is more important than a good idea.

Developing something new that actually works-and that people want-can take years. After an inventor has a brilliant idea, the hard part begins. A working model must be developed and tested. If the results are poor or inconsistent, the project may have to be rethought-or even scrapped. A good idea is necessary, but what comes after is more important.

When a working model is finally developed, the inventor must conduct what is called a "search for prior art." That means checking to make sure that there isn't a similar or even identical invention around. Sometimes it seems as if all the good ideas have been taken! That means more work.

When everything is ready to go, the inventor has to apply for a patent-a legal right to ownership of the invention. It's like a contract, and every single word has legal consequences. Many inventors hire patent lawyers to make sure their interests are protected. That means more work.

It's a common mistake to think that you can sell an idea. You can't. You can only sell an invention. Turning an idea into a viable invention takes work-time-consuming, tedious, and sometimes frustrating work!

If invention is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, I'm putting my money on the ninety-nine percent.