An active figure in Israel’s vibrant startup scene, Moti Margalit, PhD used to think of himself solely as an entrepreneur. He was (and remains) highly skilled at launching technical concepts into viable businesses. But a chance encounter with Xinova nearly a decade ago opened his eyes to something else: an emerging market for Big Ideas, and for innovators who can generate them in a systematic manner.
“I always thought that to breathe life into my inventions I have to be an entrepreneur,” said Dr. Margalit, who received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and was a visiting researcher at MIT. “However, I later realized Xinova provides an alternative path enabling me to work in parallel on multiple topics. A luxury, which entrepreneurs rarely have.”
Working at the interface between the physical and electronic world, Dr. Margalit focuses on sources and applications of sound, light, vibration and heat, as well as numerous types of sensors and their underpinning algorithms. He braids his broad technical background into a systematic approach to problem solving and a hacker mentality. He has founded four companies and has been involved in the formation of countless others, and he has over 100 granted and pending patents. His achievements are driven by a passion for innovation that shines through his conversations and lectures.
“A key difference between an inventor and entrepreneur is that inventors think that an idea is so good that it sells itself,” he said. “Unfortunately, that very rarely happens, and that’s why entrepreneurs are such an important aspect of the innovation ecosystem as they make an idea palatable to the investors, customers and other stakeholders. One of the reasons I find Xinova so interesting is that it offers an alternative route of connecting ideas to stakeholders.”
Entrepreneurs know well that an idea signifies a story’s beginning, not its end. But scientists and technologists frequently lack the mindset for weaving all the necessary domains of research into their ideas to reveal the essential story and uncover its commercial value. Seeking only technical problems to solve, they don’t realize that over-exploring a single thread can unravel a whole story.
An idea never exists in complete isolation. There is always overlap and integration between fields; finding those intersections is key to invention. As with plot points and twists in a good story, an invention idea may simultaneously unlock unexpected new opportunities even when solving the original intended problem. As Dr. Margalit teaches in his lectures, the discipline to follow an idea’s multiple threads through to its its many conclusions often results in more, often superior, ideas. These concepts also underlie Dr. Margalit’s workshops on patent strategy.
The story of an invention is crucial. A compelling narrative must convince decision makers that the invention solves a problem in a unique and scalable way. The story is the fuse for launching an invention into commercialization– its articulation is the match. Getting the story right requires collaboration and a methodical process.
“Invention is like writing in that you can be a great novelist, but you still need an editor,” he said. “You need someone to look over your shoulder and help put it in the right context, to develop the right content, to clean out and to criticize the things you did not have the energy to carry out yourself, or to take care of the loose ends. You need someone to nudge you along to do all the things you need to do.”
One fundamental starting point is due diligence. Ideas need to provide a meaningful impact, which often means they need to be novel. For example, reinventing the wheel might be worthwhile, but only after thoroughly grasping the shortcomings of all wheels developed over thousands of years. Dr. Margalit teaches that a google search is an underutilized but crucial tool in inventing.
Dr. Margalit stresses the importance of well-conducted brainstorming sessions. He’s learned they are best accomplished with a diverse team of innovators led by a facilitator charged with providing structure and focus. This is a role at which Dr. Margalit excels, facilitating brainstorming sessions with both novice and veteran inventors alike around the world. Over the years, Dr. Margalit has borrowed from the TRIZ method of invention and problem solving, developed after WWII by Russian inventor and science fiction author, Genrich Altshuller, who derived 40 principles of invention from countless patents.
Dr. Margalit demonstrated his method with me over the phone in an RFI brainstorming exercise. I am most assuredly not an inventor, as was painfully apparent within seconds of my idea-diarrhea approach to designing a better motorcycle experience. But he patiently nudged my half-baked ideas within scope and towards viability with gentle but provocative questioning:
“It sounds like safety is the main problem you want to solve?” Yes. “You want to alert other drivers that you are inexperienced?” Yes. “OK, and do these ideas about balance gyroscopes and three-wheel designs seem within scope?” No. “How about we pursue those safety-focused sensor arrays, and broadcasting the driver’s experience level.” OK!
I felt a bit like a character from the Socratic dialogues. I wasn’t told what or how to think; rather, I was engaged in a process that helped me see the problems at hand clearly and methodically. From there, even crazy ideas were OK because they were focused on the problems within a methodological framework. The exercise revealed a new prism through which to view the world: problems are riddles and challenges; they are opportunities to invent.
“One way of looking at inventions is like taking a picture,” said Dr. Margalit. “People look at the world and we all see the same thing. But a professional photographer knows how to frame that “same thing” to compose it and identify the right moment needed to create a masterpiece. I call this framing. This is the stuff that inventions are made of. We have all this data in front of us and sometimes we have too much data. Framing it into a good solution is what makes a good inventor.”
The next step is developing and using a problem-solving toolset. Solving new problems is difficult even for smart, technical-minded people because, Dr. Margalit argues, we are only taught how to solve old problems in school. Solving new problems—inventing–requires different skills. It includes a multidisciplinary method different from the single-domain approach taught for math and the physical sciences.
“A person has a toolbox to solve a problem,” he said. “You can have a screwdriver, hammer or other tools. Your quality as a craftsman is defined by your ability to match the tool with the problem, and your experience with applying a specific tool. Experts are very proficient with at least one tool, one manipulation, one physical science. In Hebrew, there’s a saying: The hammer sees every problem like a nail.
“A good inventor is defined by how many tools he can readily deploy, and his experience in using these tools,” he continued. “When you teach someone to invent you teach him the tools and you teach him about framing: how, with multiple data points in a problem and solution, you must hone in on the important things. And then apply the right tools”
Dr. Margalit shares his experience and insights as a lecturer and mentor in various business and technical schools in Israel. In addition to his work with Xinova, he provides consulting and innovation services to large and small companies around the world. Several of his inventions have seen commercial deployment and many of his patents have a large number of citations. In his (limited) spare time he enjoys swimming and riding mountain bikes.
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