All his life Quentin Adam wanted to invent. An early childhood spent tinkering and playing with Legos led to undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, physics and design. After working for various companies and consultancies, designing everything from submarines to solar thermal systems, the childhood attraction to pure inventing became a gravitational pull. So he followed his dreams. And then tragedy struck.
In 2007, Adam took the plunge. He and his wife, an IP attorney, figured out their finances and planned their schedules around how they’d work and raise their two small children. Adam hit the ground running as an independent technical consultant while intending to do as much blue sky inventing as he could on the side. That same year, his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A year later she lost her battle. Adam was devastated, but he remained committed to inventing—and being the best parent humanly possible.
“After my wife passed, I worked for myself because I needed to be a full-time parent,” said Adam, who received undergraduate degrees in Physics and Mechanical Engineering from Adelaide university and a Master’s in Industrial and Product Design from University New South Wales in Australia. “It was and is risky, but I do it because I always wanted to do it. And with this Xinova opportunity, I’ve persisted with it because I quite enjoy it and because it helps the economics all work out.”
Taking such an unbeaten path took guts. The safe route at such a delicate time would have been returning to his previous consultancy work, working primarily on naval and mining equipment. But invention gave him a sense of purpose—and a way to stay home and raise his kids. He stayed the course. Invention was his guiding star.
Even as a kid playing with Legos, I had almost a compulsion you could say… that continues to this day where if I see a problem I think about how to fix it.
His life ever since has revolved around inventing and fatherhood. Somehow, it’s worked out.
In 2010, Xinova Australia was testing out its open innovation model and sought inventive people to hold a workshop. Quentin signed on to deliver one concept, and then another. More and more opportunities opened up from there. As he helped establish the local innovator community, Xinova helped fill the financial gaps in his consultancy work, providing ballast for his work-life balance.
A decade in, and the relationship has flourished. Adam is known for deploying his Swiss Army Knife-like skillset in various capacities and with excellent quality. It comes down to being both creative and structured, applying a detail-oriented approach to turn ideas into reality. He’s delivered many valuable ideas and solution reports—he doesn’t count his patents, but he has over a dozen, in addition to many solutions implemented into commercial processes.
Adam also is well-respected for designing and engineering benchtop prototypes and proof-of-concepts. It’s essential to be creative, he says, and it’s doubly handy to be able to build your own prototypes. There’s a stronger guarantee that your vision will be properly implemented when you’re responsible for building the rig, he says.
“The idea is not to generate rubbish on a whim, it’s to solve a problem properly for a company,” he said. “I treat my involvement as a consultancy job, which is to say I take it seriously. I recently had an idea that got selected and patented, and I’m now working on the design of the machine that will make it work… If I subcontract it to another person they may not have quite the right eye for detail to make it work properly… But that’s quite attractive, to be able to combine it all. The economics of it work quite well, especially when you get the patent bonus.”
Born in Fiji, Adam moved with his family to Australia at age two. Although there were no engineers in his family, Adam was gifted with excellent 3D spatial ability and a strong visual memory. He went on to study mechanical engineering and physics in high school and college, with an eye on aerospace engineering. But deep down, he wanted to design and build things no one else had built.
Eventually, Adam saw how studying industrial design would let him unite his interests and solve problems with new ideas and an aesthetic sense. As a 22-year-old mechanical engineer doing structural engineering work building submarines for the Australian navy, it was obvious he was cut from a different cloth than his colleagues. When they needed something odd and new built from scratch, Adam was always the guy.
Industrial design combined engineering expertise of how to make things work, with physics providing an understanding of how things fundamentally work. But he especially loved the artistic side to industrial design, which brought it all together. He credits industrial design for instilling the versatility requisite for inventing prolifically, from conceptualization to prototyping.
“The common thread of all this was I didn’t really want to work for somebody, even at a young age. I never liked the constraints of being in a company as just sort of a company man… I was always the guy who pointed out, ‘Why are you doing this like that?’ They would deal with something without dealing with the underlying cause. I would lob in some comment that would sort of recalibrate the conversation in the meeting to try to deal with fundamental reasons. I like working with people, but I like the idea of being able to set my own path.”
The romantic notion of innovation, wherein spontaneous ideas burst from mysterious brain waves, does not actually support a productive process. While creativity is at play, Adam stresses that structure and nose-to-the-grindstone dedication is what actually precipitates feasible ideas, patents, and commercially viable inventions at any kind of sustainable scale.
“I try to solve things in a bit of a systematic way. I call it professional day dreaming. Occasionally inspiration strikes but generally, with all those Solution Reports, I systematically worked out the solution. You have to grind it out. It needs to be treated like an engineering job.”
Adam will pick up and put down an RFI over a period of days, turning the problem over in his head. Often, he has no clue how to solve it on first read. But eventually he works it out.
Adam is humble about his accomplishments, but it’s remarkable he’s done so much as an innovator considering the odds. The world offers limited opportunities for full-time blue-sky inventors—to have found his own path while raising two small children on his own is inspiring. Having embraced innovation and fatherhood as his core purposes, Adam developed the grit and the professional tools to live life on his own terms.
The benefit of Xinova is that it is flexible, so it suits my lifestyle and it’s been good to me as an alternative inventing path given my circumstances. Resilience and persistence are important.
Connect with Quentin Adam on the Xinova Innovator Network or LinkedIn
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