Man Up: Become an Inventor

John Jacobsen, head of Engineering for Quirky believes everyone has a great idea in them. “We all have something unique that we’re sitting on. In the same ways that personalities are so different, people see things differently and they’re able to find a little window, a little crack in the universe of an idea.” You might not be the next person to think up indoor plumbing or penicillin, but odds are you’ve got an idea about how to make a can opener more efficient. “Design engineering is about ergonomics and aesthetics—it’s not building an airplane. It’s much more creative.” With that in mind, Jacobsen gives us some tips on becoming an inventor.

Tune In and Turn On

“Slowing down and developing awareness is important. I call it “learning to see.” We’re so distracted it’s hard to reflect on what we are actually doing throughout the day. It’s all about tuning in to the little problems and glitches, seeing where the systems are breaking down or things are falling apart. Look for where the messes are. How could I make that better, how could that be different? Like anything in life, it’s a process.”

Tap into your Passion

“If you’re passionate about something, that’s usually a good sign. If you love cooking, odds are you have an idea for a utensil that doesn’t exist, or you want to cut something in a way that you can’t at present. If you’re your own little aficionado, then odds are the idea is there and it’s just a matter of articulating it. Either something totally new or how to improve something. Just be sure your idea is unique. Take a look at the competitive landscape and make sure it hasn’t been patented. “

Make a Prototype

“James Dyson speaks about the design as being an iterative process, meaning a process of prototyping. The only way to make something good is to prototype it. He takes this to an almost laughable extreme, but it’s true that you learn by doing. If it’s always just a napkin sketch you never connect with the usability, ergonomics.”

Inspiration on the Fly

“Everyone has the ability to find something or stumble on something. The way you find them is through “workarounds.” When you create something with your hands and test it yourself, not only are you documenting what you’re doing, you’re actually in that process learning and inspiring yourself and uncovering new things that you didn’t think about. Humans are good at this. We’re able to solve things in those moments where we’re adapting or coming up with something on the fly.”

The Power of Constraint

“Under pressure, humans rise to the challenge. We can do things quickly. Routine can becomes the enemy, because it strips us away from our instinctual behavior. Of course, it’s a balancing act between unreasonable constraints and just enough of a window to create something of merit. At Quirky, we bring two new consumer products to market every week. If it took two years it would be hard to keep our community engaged.”

What Quirky Looks For

We look for things that are genuinely compelling and things that solve something in an interesting way. It can’t be too “gadgety” with too many “feature creeps.” That’s where it becomes “as seen on TV.” We want timeless things that will endure. Uniqueness, true innovation, and mass appeal are what we look for.

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