Dave Small is a successful inventor. He hasn’t hit it big on one single product; he isn’t featured on the cover of Time Magazine. But what Dave has done is much more remarkable. He’s helped create hit toy after hit toy for the past twenty-five years.
Many inventors experience sincere difficulty bringing a single product to the marketplace. How has this one man managed to break the mold? And what can we learn from his quarter century of innovation?
If knowledge is power, Dave Small reigns over a sizeable kingdom. Small has amassed this knowledge by immersing himself in the innovative toy industry; he’s worked for Atari, Worlds of Wonder, and Galoob, and was instrumental in the creation of Lazer Tag, Teddy Ruxpin, just to name a few. Small has since co-founded his own company, Shoot the Moon, with former Worlds of Wonder Vice President of Marketing and Co-Founder Paul Rago.
The field of innovation is often perceived as full of possibility, of hope and chance – as one of the few industries in which inexperience might actually be an asset. And although Small readily attributes some of his success to luck, the calculation that has taken place behind each of his actions is clear. Small understands exactly how his two industries operate. And this acute knowledge has allowed him to move quickly and effortlessly from one toy design to another.
For example, Small knows that at its core, freelance innovation is based on a numbers game. It’s simple: Not all ideas are going to be received warmly and recognized by a client. Up the number of ideas you’re producing, and up your chances of licensing. Create and fine-tune more ideas. Small has never made the fatal error of cementing himself to one idea, and you shouldn’t either. Move on to the next idea, and the next, and the next…
Small’s knowledge denotes the respect he has for the field of innovation. When asked what the single best thing fledgling inventors could do, he responded, “Work in your chosen profession. Understand why some products are successful and some aren’t. Create from the sidelines. When you’re ready, jump in.”
Small isn’t a pessimist and he doesn’t lack faith in his talent. But what he does know is that a product he shows a client tomorrow is intended to hit the marketplace in the fall of 2010. And that means that he won’t be paid until the first quarter of 2011. Food, clothing, and housing don’t pay for themselves – have the financial resources to live comfortably until, and if, you’re paid.
And furthermore, the knowledge you’ll gain of manufacturing operations will be incredibly useful. Small relies on his intimate knowledge of manufacturing operations in the Orient from former jobs at Worlds of Wonder, Hasbro and Mattel regularly – and in fact, believes this knowledge is one of the main reasons he’s enjoyed such consistent success.
Dave Small knows that creativity breeds creativity. And as a result, surrounds himself with other creative, talented people. Feed off people who share the same ideals you do and who are as apt to excitedly pursue a new concept or idea as you are.