There are a number of different ways to invent. Many people imagine an idea they think is solving a big problem first, and then try to find a market for that idea. I’ve definitely done that. But I’m not sure it’s the best way. Certainly, creating solutions to the problems we encounter every day makes sense. But finding a viable market can be challenging. I propose an alternative strategy: first, identify opportunities that demand creative problem solving skills. Essentially, invent for the marketplace as it actually exists (not just in your head!). These opportunities are everywhere. I “problem-hunt” by reading the newspaper, attending trade shows, and watching television, for example.
Try finding an industry that is old and tired. My manager at Worlds of Wonder, the company I worked for long ago, used to look at a category and ask, “How can I update it?” For example, he updated the ancient game of tag by adding a laser component. He freshened the back-to-school industry by adding elements of fashion into traditional school products. The line “Class Act” really made a dent in the industry because it was new and exciting. Was it revolutionary? No. Did it need to? No!
How can you identify a tired market? Get down to a giant retailer and start browsing. I always start by visiting markets that I’m passionate about – I know more about what makes a product good or bad. Try to find the holes. What’s missing? Look at the benefits of each product. I’ll bust out my large sketchpad and start asking, “Can I do anything different?” Watch people pick out items to examine, and if you can, how they interact with them. It’s often easy to get inspired by watching someone use an item. Check out the current “hot” markets as well, like pet and cooking.
And as always, have fun. Play games. Turn things upside down. If you start in the marketplace, you’re much more likely to imagine a product people actually need and want – which means one they’ll buy!
Stephen Key is a successful award-winning inventor who has licensed
over 20 products in the past 30 years. Along with business partner
Andrew Krauss, Stephen runs inventRight,
a company dedicated to educating inventors about selling their ideas
and the skills needed to succeed. You can listen to the weekly radio show on inventing. Get In The News, list your invention to have media outlets find you for news stories.