what compels an individual to invent is a complicated affair. After all,
an inventor's motives can be as diverse as the inventions they create.
From a broad perspective, all inventors and innovators are driven purely
by curiosity and the need to create. However, examining inventions in
Alberta over the past two centuries reveals that innovative activity is
driven by a myriad of forces that range from practicality to the
pursuit of recognition, fortune and academic excellence.
first settlers in Alberta were
forced to create new equipment and processes in order to succeed in the
harsh prairie environment. Inventing to make life easier is, therefore, a
driving force that modern Albertans continue to share with their pioneer
predecessors. Consider Calgary resident
who, only as few short decades ago developed a motorized prosthetic limb
that provided more realistic movement for above-the-knee amputees.
Competition and Recognition
from peers and acceptance by an occupational or academic community is also
a strong motivation for invention. Colleagues are triggered to invent by a
competitive spirit and a desire for greater recognition or fame. The
Nobel Prize is perhaps
the most prestigious international award an inventor could hope to
receive, and many other research councils and establishments recognize
inventive achievement on a global and national level. The Canadian
Ernest C. Manning
Foundation has been awarding substantial cash
prizes to innovative Canadians since 1982 and in 2002, David Martin and
Nancy Knowlton of Calgary, Alberta and their company SMART Technologies,
Inc. received the Innovation Award.
In some cases, financial
incentives bring out the inventive spirit. However, despite the "get rich
quick" myth that surrounds the inventive experience, financial gain may be
elusive for many independent inventors, as an inventor must also be a
business entrepreneur who understands market conditions. Important to the
independent inventor is the ability to take their invention beyond the
planning stage and create a marketable product.
With greater access to both money and labour, larger
firms are in a better position to maximize financially on an important
invention. Likewise, certain industries with access to new technologies,
like aeronautics and petrochemicals, have an advantage in their research
and development departments due to the speed with which they can produce
and distribute their products and services. Staying one step ahead of
their competitors is a powerful motivation for many companies.
Still, despite the millions
of dollars pumped into careful research and experimentation, many inventions
still occur simply by accident. Velcro and Post-It Notes,
for example, were the happy results of unplanned observations. The Swiss
creator of Velcro did not set out to create a new type of fastener. He
did, however, take advantage of the potential he observed in a natural
mechanism (he examined burrs caught on his boots after a hike in the
woods under a microscope).
Some discoveries, likewise, happen when an inventor is
working on a different inventive project. While attempting to emulsify
bituminous sands (bitumen is a thick oil substance), Alberta inventor
Clark stumbled across the even more valuable process for separating the sands.
Heritage Trail : Leduc Oil Discover: The discovery of oil in Leduc allowed for the creation of transcontinental
pipelines and got the Alberta economy back online after World War Two.
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