Pagan Kennedy knows something about inventors. As the New York Times Innovation columnist it was her job to dig up the human stories behind some of the iconic products we use every day.
From the Super Soaker water gun to the wheeled suitcase, Kennedy looked into exactly who came up with the idea for many of the cool products we use regularly. What she discovered was a great many of them were amateurs -- and most of them approached inventing in similar ways. The results of all this fascinating research has now found its way into her new book, Inventology.
A recent TED blog post offers a preview of what it contains in the form of key traits and behaviors of amateur inventors. Here are four.
1. They're in pain.
Market-winning inventions often don't come from engineering classes or formal brainstorming sessions. Often they're born from pain. Kennedy offers the example of Jake Stap, who invented that basket used to pick up tennis balls. Where did the idea come from? His aching back when his tennis students refused to pick up their own balls.
Desperate for relief, "Stap put a tennis ball on the passenger seat of his car and spent the winter looking at it, playing with it, and considering solutions to the problem... until he came up with the now-ubiquitous metal-basket tennis ball hopper," says the post. Your pain, then, isn't a problem. It's fuel.
2. They fall in love.
Ideas are great, but they don't tend to go anywhere unless they're paired with passion. "They fall in love with it. And the love is what keeps them going. It doesn't feel like work. They see the possibility and they are motivated," says Kennedy of the inventors she's profiled. So don't fight your tendency for single-minded (but joyful) obsession.
3. They're lucky.
Oh great, you might be thinking. How on earth am I supposed to use this supposed insight to improve my chances of becoming a successful inventor? But luck isn't some mysterious gift of the universe. It's the consequence of particular attitudes and behaviors. You can actually cultivate luck by being open to serendipity.
"More than 50 percent of patent owners credited a serendipitous event for their invention. In other words, inventors were not aiming to create what they ended up creating. But because they were open to what was around them, they made great discoveries," reports the TED post.
4. They lean on a community.
Great ideas don't usually spring fully formed from one person's brain. They're the product of feedback. Where do you get feedback? From other people, of course. Inventing, it turns out, is at least partially a group undertaking.
"Serial inventor Dick Belanger kept a book he called, 'Dick's book of dumb ideas,' which included a fogless bathroom mirror, a tennis ball inflater and a hot dog-shaped hamburger. He bounced the ideas off friends and family. Eventually, they helped guide him toward pursuing his idea for a no-spill sippy cup that used an air vacuum to trap water inside. Fellow parents helped fine-tune his cleverly designed cup," relates the post.