Most inventors are tough-minded people who thrive on ingenuity and a willingness to experiment. However, inventors need to be on the lookout for an insidious beast, an attitude hell-bent on robbing you of your fire and ambition: Inventor Baby Syndrome. If you permit yourself to succumb to its progress-sucking powers, you will experience roadblocks in your quest to bring an invention idea to market. So what is Inventor Baby Syndrome? Before attempting a full diagnosis, here are some symptoms:
1) Refusal to adjust your original idea in any way, shape, or form.
One thing that victims of Inventor Baby Syndrome have trouble grasping is that the idea is less important than execution; ie, less important than the problem you are trying to solve. Venture capitalist Paul Graham discusses this in an article relating to startups:
“In some fields the way to succeed is to have a vision of what you want to achieve, and to hold true to it no matter what setbacks you encounter. Starting startups is not one of them. The stick-to-your-vision approach works for something like winning an Olympic gold medal, where the problem is well-defined. Startups are more like science, where you need to follow the trail wherever it leads.”
Replace the word “startups” with “inventions”, and you will understand the point being made. Clinging to your original conceptions in the face of rational evidence that you should make changes is a disastrous policy. Be careful though! Rushing to start over all the time is another symptom of Inventor Baby Syndrome.
2) Constantly scrapping your progress and starting over.
In the same article, Graham cautions against the opposite problem: starting over too frequently!
You have to be prepared to see the better idea when it arrives. And the hardest part of that is often discarding your old idea.
“But openness to new ideas has to be tuned just right. Switching to a new idea every week will be equally fatal. Is there some kind of external test you can use? One is to ask whether the ideas represent some kind of progression. If in each new idea you’re able to re-use most of what you built for the previous ones, then you’re probably in a process that converges. Whereas if you keep restarting from scratch, that’s a bad sign.”
This is an Inventor Baby Syndrome symptom because it’s just a way for you to put off that fateful day when the market decides if your invention will fly. By endlessly starting over, you never finish. It seems obvious enough, but this is a surprisingly common problem.
3) Refusing to partner with anyone or disclose anything
Perhaps the most common symptom of Inventor Baby Syndrome is guarding your idea with such jealous hostility that you turn away perfectly harmless people who just want to help. The obvious downfall of this is that depriving yourself of partnerships and assistance makes the road to selling your product much more challenging. If you need a database programmer, you should hire one. Make him sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and swear him to secrecy, but hire one! This is often the only way to get your invention to market. Trying to carry the whole operation on your shoulders will only lead to an overstressed life, not runaway success.
If you do any of these things, you are afflicted with Inventor Baby Syndrome. It is a harsh name, but an accurate description. Inventing something and convincing people to buy it is hard work, and anyone who tells you differently is lying, naïve, or both.
If you want to throw this success-stealing monkey off your back and face the challenges ahead with open eyes, there is a cure: a rational, reality-based approach to inventing. To achieve it, you need to confront and fully accept some basic facts about what you are doing.
The first fact is that people don’t buy inventions because they’re really cool ideas. They don’t walk into Wal-Mart or Home Depot, pause, imagine all the painstaking work that went into making the product or how unprecedented it is and then, in a rush of inspiration, decide to buy it. Rather, they buy things that they believe will solve some pressing need that they have. That is why you should not cling to your original idea at all costs. Instead, hold true to your vision, but make changes if reason and logic tell you that you should.
The second fact is that constantly starting over is just a defense mechanism to shield you from the pain of possible failure. “What if no one buys the product?” you might subconsciously wonder. Well, that is eminently possible. But what is the alternative? Giving up and living the 9-5 grind that helped drive you to invent something in the first place? Instead, adopt a mindset of optimistic realism. “Yes, failure is possible, but I am confident in my ability and the value of my invention. I am going to persist as though I will succeed until actual evidence makes me think I wont.”
The third fact is that, to be totally honest, most people do not care about your idea. Yes, you should take reasonable precautions like NDAs. But in all actuality, there are not swarms of people just dying to steal your idea. Most people will not drop everything they are doing to pursue an idea they just heard of. For the most part, this will not happen and you should not let it dominate your thoughts.
Above all, keep the end in mind: getting that product to market. If what you are doing is inhibiting the process then stop doing it and start making new decisions. You have to have sensory accuity and figure out what is working and what is not. Don’t expect the market to suddenly change it’s response to your product. You must grow and adapt to meet the markets demands.