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Generating Ideas

This cartoon, by cartoonist Graham Harrop, was published in the Globe and Mail on August 18, 2001. It comically shows what can happen when innovators work in isolation and forget to look into existing patents and inventions.The creative process of invention, in many ways, remains a mystery. Some call it an art, others a science. Whatever the case, it involves both problem solving and ingenuity.

According to Gilbert Kivenson in The Art and Science of Inventing, there are many methods of accomplishing what he calls "creativity enhancement." The first and simplest technique occurs when an inventor generates an idea by separating a problem into manageable subdivisions and listing its characteristics. These subdivisions are explored as separate entities, and any further related ideas are recorded.

Or, inventors look at their problem through different eyes. That is, inventors force themselves to examine a problem from the perspective of another person, or even an object or an animal. Inventors can also completely reverse the problem and discover new viewpoints when the "tail is made to ‘wag the dog’ and the results are analyzed." Kivenson also sees a journalistic aspect in invention, with the inventor asking the questions who, what, when, where and how to discover new information.

Pooling the talents and skills of different individuals is one method inventors often use to jump start the creative process.

As mentioned in the Process section of this website, inventors also look to the accomplishments of others for ideas. A modern inventor may look at products, processes and patents from the past, and be able to breathe new life into them and adapt them for a different purpose. Inventors can also look to nature for inspiration. Many of the earliest attempts at constructing a flying machine were modelled after the physiology of birds or airborne insects, and scientists often look at chemicals, biological compounds and reactions in nature when researching new medical treatments.

Finally, most of us are familiar with the most common form of group creativity enhancement—brainstorming. Committees, research and development teams, and planning groups all benefit from a larger talent pool. What one individual overlooks, another might identify as the solution to a problem. Through discussion, the finer points are ironed out and expanded and the idea becomes greater than any one individual on the team.

Regardless of which method or combination of methods is adopted, an inventor must also be willing to learn through trial and error. After all, chocolate-chip cookies, X-rays and many important modern inventions were discovered by accident. The creativity in these instances was in being able to recognize an important opportunity.

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