Inventing and “Feeling It”

It is easy to think you were an inventor when you really were not.

When I was an engineer at HP, I wrote up 3-4 invention disclosures before a meeting, where we were going to discuss a new product.  At the meeting, I pitched a couple of the ideas *I had already submitted* for patenting.  There was a lot of excitement in the room, with people throwing ideas around that they had seen for the first time.  As I was walking out of the meeting, one guy pulled me aside and said “please remember to put my name on the patent.”  Of course, I had already filed the invention disclosures a couple days before he ever heard the idea – and note that he wasn’t offering to do any of the leg work to write up the invention disclosure.

What I learned from this episode: the euphoria of seeing a new idea for the first time is indistinguishable from actually creating that new idea.  My lazy colleague actually thought he came up with the idea – even though I had created the idea and he was just hearing it for the first time.  His mental process of hearing and internalizing the idea made him actually believe that he “invented” something.  The euphoria of the “eureka” moment of invention or just grasping a new idea for the first time are the same.  It is the same dopamine rush to the brain, the same “a-ha” experience, that made my colleague believe that he was an inventor.

This happens with virtually every technology and in every setting.  People learn about a new technology that they never knew existed, and it seems like a whole new world of possibilities.  Crypto/blockchain/smart contracts have that effect on people.  The blockchain universe is territory that feels unexplored and ready for innovation.  Every concept is unfamiliar and new, but dripping with possibilities.  That dopamine hit that my colleague experienced in a meeting room at HP has been experienced by countless people as they get exposed to blockchain and some of the concepts of “decentralization,” “trust-less,” and other heady ideas.

There will be a group of people who get exposed to a basic concept and will run out and “invent” things.  What they “invent” might be the last idea that they heard from someone else.  If they do “invent” something new, it might be a half-baked idea that has not been fully vetted or might not even work.

This is why I tend to look for experience in an industry before I make an investment. I want the inventor to know all of the obvious and not-so-obvious problems that they would encounter, and be able to take those into consideration when inventing.

The process of inventing is, like Edison, a long, tedious trial and error process. It is not a bolt of lightning that comes from above.