For over fourteen years, I made a living, first part-time and now full-time, from creative endeavors, most especially, inventing. It took me a few years to realize that many of foundational values of the corporate world, don’t work well at all in the inventing, creative world of product development. I eagerly learned new skills, but unlearning old precepts was difficult.
New Rules for the Inventor to Live By
Here are three new rules you must consider if you want to be a successful inventor:
- Your Friends are Your Worst Enemies
- Your Enemies are Your Best Friends
- Perception = Reality
How can I possibly suggest that your friends could be your worst ‘enemies’?
Let me illustrate with a story every parent has experienced. Your son’s team just lost a big soccer game against their cross-town rivals. When the rival team scored the winning goal against your son, the goalie, he felt humiliated, the whole team felt let down – they felt like “losers.” Indeed they were, but losers of one soccer game, not losers in life.
At that moment, the coach went to his car and gave everyone on the team a small trophy – a participation trophy. The team members felt happier for that moment. Because the coach felt their collective sadness and everyone had played so hard, he just wanted to make them all feel better.
But, really, he was in that moment not their best friend, but rather their worst enemy. They needed a stinging defeat to learn the lesson that life is tough and playing/working hard is essential but, hard work by itself can never guarantee success – in soccer or in the workplace. The enabling coach snatched that lesson away from them and in it’s place gave them the empty feeling of meritless trophies.
Unfortunately, adults receive such trophies all the time.
When you excitedly told your friends and colleagues about your new invention did any of them tell you it was a bad idea or simply say “I don’t get it, why would anyone buy this product?” I’m betting not.
Instead they probably said, “that’s interesting.” Or worse: “wow, that’s great, such a good idea, I wished I had thought of it!” Friends, colleagues and often loved ones will never honestly critique your invention, they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But you need honest critiques, not fawning praise or admiration, which leads me to my next point:
Your Enemies are Your Best Friends
More accurately stated, critics are an inventor’s best friends.
Why? They give you their honest, unadulterated opinions about your invention, whether it is positive or negative. Like the kid on the soccer field, you do not want to hear there is anything wrong with your fantastic invention.
But, their criticism may be right on target. Perhaps your price point is too high. If so, your sales and profits will suffer. Maybe your product is too complicated and will confuse prospective buyers. Confused people do not buy. It could be that your product seems very similar to other products in the marketplace.
The good news is you can fix all of these problems if you are aware of them.
By substituting cheaper materials, your costs may be reduced substantially – many products that sell briskly at $19.95, will languish and die on shelves at $29.95. Maybe you can simplify your product to essential elements, reducing complexity and cost. Lastly, it may need to be differentiated more clearly from other products to sell successfully. Going ‘back to the drawing board’ can often be the best thing for your product and for you.
All of the above assumes that your critics are right.
What if they are wrong and you are right? It happens all the time, it happened to me. But every criticism has at least a grain of truth to it, leading me to my final point.
Perception = Reality
If critics perceive your product is too big/expensive/confusing – they may be completely wrong, but here is the problem. What if a lot of other prospective buyers have the same perceptions? People make buying decisions based on feelings and perceptions, not on facts. This is why perceptions, whether right or wrong, become reality. For much more information on this, read Buyology by Martin Lindstrom.
My invention, the Wonder Wallet has been a big success in the marketplace. But it took me a very long time to make that happen. Why? People perceived that it was too big to fit in their pocket – because it is a bit larger in physical size than other wallets. They were, of course, wrong and I knew they were wrong. It made me angry, to be honest.
But, because perception = reality, I wasted years attempting to get my wallets directly into retail stores. In such stores, many buyers would think the wallets were too big, unless I could somehow educate them otherwise. I had to take a different path to find success.
When I took the wallet onto QVC it sold very well, because I could show buyers how it worked and then viewers knew it wasn’t too big. When it was later advertised via thousands of television commercials via DRTV, all those same retailers were happy to take my product. Perception = reality may mean you must make a course adjustment to achieve success with your product. I learned, albeit the hard way, and so can you.