Electronic Product Design

14/02/2012 - Inventive madness

large old book

Pointers to deal with reality

Thoughts from abroad

The British are generally considered to be an inventive group and this does have some historic foundation. In electronics we deal with electrons that move as a current measured in Amps due to a potential difference measured in Volts. All terribly British sounding until you realise that the terms derive from abroad in the form of André-Marie Ampère (French physicist and mathematician) and Alessandro Volta (Italian physicist). Mr Volta is also the inventor of the voltaic pile, possibly the first chemical battery.

We hear about the world shrinking due to our connectivity through the internet. We may have friends or family overseas. It still appears to be a surprise to some that international dealings are not only commonplace but almost essential. One of the most direct thoughts about your intended invention needs to consider the matter in global terms. Can your product be used in Africa? Would India be another candidate?

Global consideration

At this point any discussion about moving the invention forward may stumble across some version of: “Well, I was just going to run a small quantity local to home” or “I think covering the UK will be enough of a challenge”.

Here is another thought: You spend your time, effort and your or someone else's cash. The product proves to be successful in the scale that you defined. You have now provided all the data that someone else would need. Namely the product is viable and has a market. All they need to do is create a me-too version of the same thing and sell it anywhere other than the UK. There is a lot of world out there.

Challenging thoughts

It is only a thought but at this stage thinking is free. There is a concept that runs along the lines of “I have thought of it and it's new” as if that were the whole process. The details and technicalities of designing the product or reaching the market are for others to consider.

It becomes uncomfortable to think about all the challenges that lie ahead. It is also very probable that some expert help is required. The best technical people are not necessarily the best at marketing. Conversely a sales/marketing guru may not be aware of the practicalities and logistics of product generation.

It pays to move outside the inevitable comfort zone that surrounds the greatness of the invention. If the invention is great then it will stand these challenges. Having a great invention does not necessarily mean that it is a household name. It generally means delivering on its promises and providing a return for the effort (usually financial).

Thinking and research

I have learnt the hard way about providing a product that I would like. We can all be “expert” about the things we like and the experiences we have had. However, you or I represent a singular sale. It is more than likely that your sales targets are higher than that! You might be able to say that you have experience of this product in another form and that your opinions are well founded. It is certainly a considerable help. However, this process of thinking involves a degree of effort too.

Effort in thinking moves beyond the mere pondering of the product context to many nations. A trip to your computer will yield a wealth of information that can be added to the thoughts you already have. However, you may soon find that the most useful data is “hidden” behind “pay-for-me” reports and surveys. There are then two possible reactions. One is the question of “am I going to pay £25 (for instance) to have a survey/report that only answers one question?”. The other reaction is “I would spend the £25 but I am really not sure that this document holds the information that I need”.

If the first question applies, then you have to start wondering what commitment really exists for the great invention. For the second dilemma, there is help at hand. It requires only a modicum of effort and is manifest in a trip to your local public library. In there, amongst the reference section, is a vast mine of information. It can be daunting as the first books come off the shelf to no avail. It soon becomes less daunting and fascinating as data comes off the pages, saving £25's at a time.


More important than the inner feelings of successful endeavour are the outcomes. You are now armed with facts. The process may prove that your product concept has a tiny market potential and your ideas are quashed. This is disappointing but not nearly as damaging as spending a great deal of your time to no avail. You can also rest assured that you will not suffer the indignity of losing your money or that of your benefactors and investors.

The balance of probability actually lies in your favour. The chances are that the market is bigger than you think and even “saturated” markets have openings, opportunities and niches to fulfil. You are likely to be able identify the size of the potential market and may even find some of the players in or around it. With this information you can also take a look at these “players”. The new thought processes will be better founded and more likely to lead down the appropriate path.

Use the mirror technique

The conclusion to this phase of early thinking is the concept of a mirror. You do not have to be vain or stand in front of a real mirror reciting some chant. It s is far more straightforward.

The idea is that you confront yourself with honesty. It is along the lines of this: You are presented with a bright individual who has come up with an invention or product concept. He wants you to consider being a part of this project. In this thought project you can be the investor with the necessary funds.

Now the game begins. You need to be convinced that this individual has really “got something”. He needs to demonstrate that his experience is well placed and that he acknowledges the areas where he does not have enough skills or knowledge. You need to be presented with coherent facts. If you cannot see the project from the other point of view there will be problems ahead in any event. If you cannot be persuaded by the dialogue you will have found your own weak spot that requires further work.

Pursue your ambition

None of this is intended to dissuade you from following your new invention's ambition. It is true that all great products came from an original thought. However, not all great thoughts make great products. History is littered with great concepts that cost a fortune and made no return. Equally, you will find that even great products have met their struggles along the way.

If you are committed to your project and armed with information, then you are in a powerful position. Your next steps will be to speak to people who can advise on the way forward. They are almost bound to throw up new questions.

Make sure that whoever you talk to, they offer a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA - it protects you both). The best companies do offer NDA and they have no intention of taking your idea off you. Such companies have more than enough ideas of their own and will very likely be developing them into a commercial reality. Why would you go to a company that does not “do it themselves”?

“Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively” - François-Marie Arouet (better known by his pen name: Voltaire).

Posted by: Peter Hawkins on 14/02/12.

Image: zirconicusso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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