Invention is not a linear process, nor are my days. Here is a sample day presented chronologically. Not a typical day, but there is no typical day. That’s what I love about my life.
I love the stillness of the middle of the night so that I can be absorbed by the task at hand. My favorite place to be is in the lab: building, testing, tinkering, playing. Being open to serendipity. Tonight, I am working on a device I submitted for the Non-Thermal Pasteurization RFI. It has revealed something really useful that will help with the next design iteration. Time for some rest.
Breakfast with my kids…my true inspiration. Before we leave for school drop-off, my 4 year old brings me one of her toys that is broken, “Can you fix this at your work please daddy?” I love that she is embracing the maker/hacker attitude as we discuss the possible fix for her finger puppet’s missing hand.
I wish I didn’t have to do this bit, but there is always admin involved with running an invention company. Emails, insurance, bills, forms, accountants, contracts, calls, ordering, invoicing…. I want this off my to do list as quickly as possible so that I can be free for the good stuff.
Review results from last night’s experiment with the project team working on the non-thermal pasteurization device. We decide on the next design iteration, and I mash up a CAD design, and get it going on the 3D printer. While I am doing a print run, I quickly jump on Thingiverse.com and download a “hand” for my daughter’s finger puppet. This whirrs away while we go on to other tasks.
While in the lab, I talk with my chemist about the smart tattoo project and she shows me the latest result from the smart inks that we are developing. While the next step for this is very apparent, we discuss all the options to make sure her thinking is right. I totally agree with her, as always.
Reviewing a draft of the new invention opportunity statement (RFI…request for invention) that we are drafting for a client. This is the document that serves to distill the innovation need, as well as providing a clear picture of the shoulders of the giants we will be standing on to attempt to solve it. The aim is to identify the invention gap: if a technical solution exists, why hasn’t the market adopted it? If a market opportunity exists, why hasn’t there been a technical solution? Clearly defining the problem this way, before we begin “solving”, is incredibly powerful to our process.
Brainstorming session. When done right, this is very enjoyable. A good brainstorming session isn’t just an ideation session, although that is what most people imagine it to be. Rather, this time is best used to iterate on existing ideas and concepts, and bring things forward. I liken invention to painting a picture. The artist first conceives the idea in his or her head, then sketches it out, maybe a few times before committing it to canvas. Once the painting begins, the picture can still evolve, more layers can be applied, flaws fixed, serendipitous events expounded on, and so forth. Most likely finished piece may be very different from what was first conceived. So it is with invention. It doesn’t happen in one sitting. The brainstorming provides a safe haven to check my thinking, my science and my crazy, before I go public. I’m not concerned about what people think, per se, I just want to maximize my chances of solving my client’s problems. The other main advantage of the brainstorming session is to make the connections between my thoughts and those of my team-mates. I’m always amazed by what we learn collectively. Wrapping up the brainstorming, it’s always important to summarize and ensure everyone is clear about next steps.
Back in the lab. The printer is finished, and the team working on the non-thermal pasteurization device are already casting around the new design. Also the “hand” is ready, so to clear my head, I spend some time getting this glued up.
Need supplies for several experiments and some general lab stuff. The folks at the local grocery and hardware stores know me well, and are always interested in my obscure shopping lists. Amazon for everything else.
Time for a quick tinker session. The beauty of our lab is it allows me to do quick experiments to test some of the things that I can’t just do on paper. Especially when I am using biology to solve a challenge, there are so many unexpected things that can happen, that it is easier to just “see”. I take some of the microorganisms I just bought at the supermarket and get them activated and mixed with the right materials and under the right conditions to test my ideas. All being well, I should have an answer by the morning.
Quick check with the team that they have everything from me that they need. The beauty of an open office and small team is that this takes 30 seconds. Wrap up the day. Grab my daughter’s newly mended friend on my way out.
I love a 5 minute commute and I love my sacred family time.
Conference call with Australian client to review some of our projects. These calls are always enjoyable connecting with the “consumer” of our work and getting that personal feedback of how we might have overcome a particularly intractable industry challenge just by thinking differently. Our clients are always more qualified in their respective industry, however we often are able to overcome challenges because we approach a problem as inventors, not an expert. This is subtle, but fundamental to our value, and always appreciated in these calls.
Writing up notes from the meeting, I also jot down in my little ideas book the three ideas that just came to mind about the challenge we have been working on for binding granola bars without using sugar. I quickly sketch them so that I can remember and research more in the morning.
I love to read before falling asleep. Sometimes science, sometimes business, sometimes trash novel.
Author, Michael Manion, Ph.D.
Owner of Keon Research
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