Who can be an inventor?

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Can you be an inventor? This is a relevant question if you’ve invented something (or think you might have invented something) but are hesitant about doing anything with your invention idea because you feel you’re not ‘qualified’.

There’s both a simple and a less simple answer.

Simple first. Anyone can be an inventor. It’s one of few areas of human activity left where you don’t need exam passes, specialist skills or a brilliant CV.

For example: the late Jimi Heselden, UK inventor of the Hesco Bastion barrier systems that made him a multi-millionaire and outstanding philanthropist, was a redundant miner. And of the inventors we know personally, most started out with skills and jobs unrelated to their field of invention.

Some had, like Jimi Heselden, lost jobs and turned a negative into a positive by developing invention ideas they’d never had the time for when they were working. (It’s tough developing an invention on very little money, but not impossible.)

Invention is wide open to anyone who can identify a problem with an existing product, process or situation and see a potential way of solving it. An amateur may spot a problem and solution that a professional overlooks, because the non-expert isn’t blinkered by routine or convention. He or she can think outside the box because they’ve never been in the box.

And many people ‘in the business’ are not particularly innovation minded. They’ve got jobs to protect, and proposing an invention idea that might rock the boat too violently is usually a career move to avoid. Risk is rarely popular, even though there is no innovation without risk.

So don’t be too bothered if you have a big (or small) bold invention idea that may catapult you, a novice, into the same league as experts and professionals. It’s been done plenty of times before and it can be done plenty of times again.

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But…

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If you don’t start out as an expert, you’ve got to become one pretty quickly. And here beginneth the not-so-simple answer.

Being an inventor is about far more than just having an idea. To be brutal, invention ideas are ten a penny. What’s valuable and scarce is the ability and determination to do something with your invention idea. Turning it into a viable business proposition is what makes you not just an inventor but also an entrepreneur.

That means you must start behaving like an entrepreneur, even if your goal is licensing your invention rather than business start-up. You must become a credible, if small, player in the market your invention is aimed at. Inventors who accept the role, and the commitment that goes with it, are much more successful than those who don’t.

What you have to do, and the order of priorities, is all explained in our invention guide A Better Mousetrap.

The core message is that your must think and behave like a business person from day one of your invention project. That includes the invention evaluation stages (prior art and market research) and technical stages (design, development and testing). No matter how appealing an invention idea may be to you personally, it must have good commercial prospects to be worth pursuing.

Admittedly there may be limits to how businesslike you can be without losing the passion that fuels most invention projects. Conventional business people shy away from inventors and inventions. (Too much risk! Too far from market!) You can’t shy away from yourself. The trick, if it is one, is to become a sufficiently unconventional business person to have a foot in both camps.

Fundamentally, the level of knowledge and experience you start from isn’t important. What is important is that you rapidly become an expert in everything to do with your invention, because with expertise comes confidence in:

Your ability to avoid mistakes.
Your ability to persuade risk-averse business people that you’ve got it right and they should back you.

So put in the hours and learn. It’s something anyone can do, and most of the knowledge you need will be free. The more expert knowledge you acquire, the better your chances of rising through the ranks and quickly becoming a successful inventor-entrepreneur.

Always remember that most business people don’t back ideas or inventions; they back other business people. That’s what being an inventor is all about!

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