Five habits of successful inventors

By Graham Harris

Experts estimate that only one out of every five thousand inventions undergo successful product launches to the extent they result in a good return for their inventor. Consensus also suggests that the actual idea itself is only 10% of the process. The remainder encompassesthe disciplines of manufacturing, testing, marketing and getting the product out there. Successful inventors don’t always have the best ideas, but they tend to form the best habits, to keep them on track and disciplined. Here’s the top five I think helped me utilise over 80 patents and successfully bring to market hundreds of unique print related products.

1) The habit of persistence

So many first-time inventors have a romantic notion that they can think up a fabulous idea first time, yet give up the ghost if they get even the slightest hint that something similar is out there. Rather than feeling deflated, successful inventors take a continually optimistic approach to probe deeper, and if they feel they might be able to create some clever feature that offers a unique benefit, they often design around what someone else has done.

That’s exactly what Martin Dick did in 1990, he came up with an idea to improve the efficiency of the cat’s eye (originally invented by Percy Shaw in 1933) by producing a Solarite road-stud that gave out ten times more reflection. Just like Percy, he became a wealthy man.

Successful inventors continue the habit of persistence in all areas, doing whatever it takes to get their product to market. If you are, or are thinking of embarking on your own journey of invention, start by looking in your environment for what may not exist, but also consider what might benefit from improvement.

2) The habit of inventing products that people need and will pay a premium to own

At the core of my ‘inventor mind, is the idea that I need to be absolutely positive that whatever I am trying to improve, a process or application for example, is needed to the extent that people would be willing to pay a premium to get it. Otherwise I’d be spending my time fixing someone’s problem only to end up broke.

The need to make money sounds like the wrong footing from which to start a project, but really it is the only sensible way to approach it. The truth is, genuinely successful inventors that are willing to push through the barriers at each stage of the process, often end up running businesses and paying patent fees, wages and bargaining for yet more patent applications. It is an undeniably expensive cycle.

3) The habit of great time management  

It’s so sad that some of the best ideas never see the light of day simply because so many inventors fail to manage their time during the critical first 12 months and run into money problems. Applying for a patent may cost anywhere between £3,000 –  £6,000 in the first year alone, before you have to decide whether to protect your idea internationally (for several £1000’s more).

Most of the successful inventors who monetise are acutely aware of the 12month patent clock ticking away, and realise that unless they create a time frame around everything they do, their dream to change the world and their own life will be replaced by lost opportunity and the worry of impending debt.

Once I have an idea for a solution to a problem, I aim to prove its viability before I apply for a patent, and at least get one working proto-type complete, this simply means that I have a full 12 months of knocking on doors to make sales – this obviously increases my chances of paying my patent invoices.

4) The habit of making your products look sexy

It’s a simple fact, no one will consider paying premium prices for your product if it doesn’t look slick, highly polished, or sexy. Look no further than the super cool and colourful range of Iphones or the dynamic array of Dyson vacuum cleaners, imagine these products looking dull, with no colour and with a basic design, yes they might still function the same, but who would buy them? Perceived value is key and helps a product stand out from the competition. Don’t stop at making the product slick or sexy, do the same with the packaging, and everything that follows.

5) The habit of embracing failure

Most inventors do their best to avoid failure, whilst successful inventors embrace it. Every failure or dead-end idea is an important and essential step to finding the solution they are seeking. It might sound crazy, but finding out what doesn’t work is a very good thing.

By making mistakes and failing, really you’ve narrowed down your options and you’re one step closer to knowing what does work. This information is vital for any inventor, so you should also document the steps you take along the way, successful or otherwise.

Also there might be some “failures” you reject, that may not get you the optimum result you desire. But they might still be better than what’s in the market – so run it by a patent agent and consider if it would be wise to include them in your patent, simply to avoid someone using them later.

Graham Harris is founder and Managing Director of Tech-ni-Fold Ltd and Creasestream LLP, global leaders in print creasing technology.  His book Against the Grain is available on Amazon