Inventors are unique and can be important individuals. Many have made significant social contributions.
Inventors are unlike most of the people in a population. They are more motivated and they are driven. They are more likely to be introverted than extraverted. Most importantly, they are divergent thinkers, unbound and unburdened by traditional thought or problem-solving approaches.
The inventor starts with observing a problem and seeks to imagine and create a solution to the problem. The problem can be doing something not currently possible, or making or doing something differently and better. The inventor studies and learns about barriers to achieving something. The inventor then focuses on finding a way to circumvent and defeat the problem barriers. Therefore, understanding the problem and how things work is paramount.
The inventor may be highly educated or simply possess a problem-solving mental ability, not requiring a traditional education. The inventor, when successful, is frequently found to have been unburdened by the education acquired by others who may be focusing on the same or similar problem, but unable to find a solution.
Inventors typically work alone and many are reluctant to share what they are doing until successful and possibly protected in some way. They are trained to be highly discreet and protective of their progress.
Entrepreneurs can rationalize failure as being the result of circumstances beyond their control. Inventors are engaged in a deeply personal and competitive process where it is them pitted against the problem which they are dedicated, and perhaps destined, to solve.
Neither the entrepreneurs who envision the projects nor inventors are necessarily outstanding or even simply competent business managers, because running something well is so very different than imagining or inventing something. Both entrepreneurs and inventors have to learn how to deal with frustrating failures. Creative people often do not make good managers. Good mangers are those who weigh the possible results, good or bad of all significant actions. They are not risk takers and do not assume, as both entrepreneurs and inventors do, that they will succeed.
For the entrepreneur, it is the idea, lack of resources or something else which prevents success. For the inventor, it is more personal and more difficult to ease the pain. The inventor is frequently concerned that his last invention will be his last invention, whereas the entrepreneur more easily moves on to the next project.
Many years ago, as one of thirteen Marines attending the U.S. Army’s Intelligence School at Fort Riley, Kansas, a lecturer urged us to learn to “make friends with pain”, in case we were captured by the enemy. At the time, I thought that was one of the dumber suggestions I had ever heard. Now, I am thinking that we should try to help those having the ability and inclination to create things, if we could identify them, by impressing upon them that not all problems can be solved with the resources currently at hand, no matter how great the dedication and ability of the inventor. It would be constructive to help the inventor separate project success and self-valuation assessment.
Inventors, both those who succeed and those who merely strive, should receive more respect than is usually the case. All of us benefit from the dedication and skill of successful inventors, who frequently are unknown to the public. They, and their families, have taken the risk of the inventor’s personal failure.
Should there be, or are there now, educational courses in the divergent thinking and other skill sets necessary for invention? Many colleges have entrepreneurship education courses intending to encourage business founding. Should there not also be inventor appreciation and training courses? Years ago, my wife and I attended at the University of Buffalo, a summer program for educators at the Creative Problem Solving Institute, led by Dr. Sidney Parnes. This was not a program for inventors per se, but much of the divergent thinking encouraged could be of help to inventors. One of the beginning questions, to be answered in 2 minutes, was “What are positive things that can result from the crash of a passenger plane?”
I started the above essay to suggest the need for more honor and respect to be publicly shown inventors. I have ended by noting the importance of inventors to us all and how we might better develop them as a national resource.
Arthur Lipper, Chairman
British Far East Holdings Ltd
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