Electronic Design

Revel In Your New Ideas Despite Negative Feedback

I claim competence to take up your time with this column because I'm an inventor and entrepreneur with a pretty good track record in new ideas. So I speak from real-world experience. And bruises.

Take it from me: Most people are hostile to the majority of new ideas, and are at their most inventive when thinking up objections to other people's new ideas. They're in favor of creativity in the abstract, but detest the concrete products of creativity. So, to the creative, invention is the mother of frustration.

One of the myths that encourages inventors is the quotation from Emerson: "If a man...makes a better mousetrap...the world will make a beaten path to his door." I looked it up. He was talking about better quality, not new ideas.

Lists of evasions and put-downs of new ideas have been compiled throughout the years. My collection has 79 entries that run from, "I think the idea may be old" to "Isn't that stupid!"

Am I hinting that you should stop inventing because you'll get nothing but pain? Absolutely not. But invent smart. Here's a few suggestions:

  1. Qualify your audience. Some people are less hostile than others. And there are actually some people who enjoy new ideas. Tell them.
  2. Remind yourself that inventing as an employed engineer can bring you prestige, raises, and promotions. These have happened to me. It depends on your managers. Some really do encourage and reward, while some punish. The worst case I encountered when selling my robots was the auto-company manufacturing engineer who said the robots were great, but he wouldn't propose them because if they succeeded, someone else would take the credit. But if they failed, he would get the blame.
  3. Benefit from criticism. This is very hard to do. When I was in the Convair Astronautics proposal group, Frank wasn't just hostile. He reacted to anyone else's new idea as a mongoose to a snake. Kill! Furthermore, he was extremely bright, well-educated, and aggressive. But he never learned that I used him.
       Whenever I had an idea, I first showed it to Frank. It took him milliseconds to find its flaws and trumpet them with joy. I gave no arguments. I just humbly went back to the drawing board, made the changes, and then resubmitted it to him.
       Next time, it took only seconds. Finally, Frank was reduced to a pure invective. Then I knew I had a winner!
  4. Sell your invention to an outside company. No, forget it. Most companies have an inventory of inside proposals that they lack the budget to promote. Or, they're hostile to new ideas as above. There's the NIH factor: Not Invented Here. Most companies fear legal entanglements with outside inventors. Some will even refuse to look at anything but issued patents.
       I have tried this game many times and usually drew a blank, although I have two exceptions: my decimal-keeper slide rule (remember slide rules?) and my zero-insertion force connector.
       If you invent in the field of your employer, he or she will own the invention before you invented it.
  5. Become an entrepreneur. DON'T jump on this. It is a path forked to riches and to poverty. Much more in future columns.
       If you're a compulsive inventor like me, you'll fill a folder with schemes and have the ego trip of doing so
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