Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To be or not to be an inventor?

Inventors, inventing, inventions...

I don't remember inventing things as a kid. Actually I am quite clumsy at technological things and have trouble working practically anything. When I was in high school, I developed a knack for taking pianos apart, but was unable to put them back together. Our piano in Ottawa required an urgent visit from the piano tuner, who scolded me for opening it up in the first place. The subsequent summer I took apart the piano at summer camp in Hunter, New York (not far from Woodstock, but a summer too early). I survived camp, but the piano did not. The keys and other wooden parts were offered up in a subsequent camp bonfire.

So I am not your geek inventor. I come up with an idea, and if it is very simple, I can do it. If not, I need help from the real innovative people, such as my friend Hagai Cohen.

The first invention that I remember was the debris blower, an idea I came up with while cleaning the crap under lemon trees. Getting under a lemon tree is a difficult thorny process, and I suggested to the citrus grove person-in-charge, Kobi (it was on the kibbutz) to attach an irrigation pipe to the wrong end of a vacuum cleaner. I remember the prototype that Kobi built, I understand it served the kibbutz well for several years. I have no idea whether the present day blowers are progeny or not.

During the 1970s I had the idea of flat drums and tried to interest my friend Sammy, the owner of Isramusic, to invest and build a few. He demurred, but to this day insists that I invented flat drums. Go know.

During that same period I had an empty book which I filled with my early inventions – a sock attacher that kept pairs from separating during the washing, and a writing utensil for people unable to grasp a pen.

When I joined the Dental School in 1982 I began inventing things with my friend Dr. Ervin Weiss. This collaboration gave birth to the QuadLoop, and early versions of the two-phase mouthwash. I haven't stopped since.

What does it take to be an inventor? I think you have to be a dreamer, to think laterally. You have to hate routine, be lazy about doing menial chores, and motivated into finding easier ways of doing them.

Most inventions (perhaps 99%) never make it to the marketplace, and among those that do, many fail commercially. Most inventors end up losing money in their eagerness to see their innovation become a reality. The odds are against us. Nevertheless, if you look at the invention process as fun, and limit yourself to only small investments (the size of any other hobby, such as skiing), then you can't lose. If your invention hits the shelves, you may make some serious money, and if not, you've spent a few bucks having a rip roaring time trying.

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