How to Come Up With A Great Product Idea
Ever wonder how inventors come up with those great ideas?
Myra Per-Lee developed, manufactured, and marketed about a dozen products in a ten year period, most on her own with very little start-up capital. The most successful of her inventions, massage tools for adults, animals and infants, known as Nukkles®, Nuzzles®, and Snukkles®, is still going strong after eight years on the market. Myra lets us in on the secret of how to come up with our own ideas.
Here's her article:
One day in 1990, as I was changing clothes after work, I noticed some scuff marks on the right heel of my new shoes. Miffed, as I couldn't recall rubbing them against anything, I got out my shoe polish and tried to cover up the marks on the shoe. While I was at it, I thought I'd check my closet for any other shoes that needed polishing. Funny thing, most every pair of shoes I owned showed the same pattern of wear on the right heel.
It took me a few days (I'm no Sherlock), but I figured out that the wear on the right heels of my shoes was caused by friction against the floor mat when I moved my foot back and forth from the accelerator to the brake pedal.
No big deal. The following day, I just put a soft towel over the floor mat so there would be less friction against my shoes.
No big deal until I nearly crashed into the car in front of me because the towel got stuck between the accelerator and the brake and I couldn't feel the brake with my foot! Whew!
After that near miss, I had my first product idea. It was for a soft cotton "driving sock," that would hold to the heel of your shoe until you intentionally removed it.
I rigged myself up a sock, and that was the end of it. I had no time to market the idea; demanding job, dating, family responsibilities, yada, yada.... A few years later, someone else put driving socks on the market.
I remember 1990 as the "year of the sock" and the year that, unbeknownst to me, the seeds of my addiction were planted. It was then that product ideas began popping up into my head that I had not even consciously planted! It was as though once my brain found the connection from problem to product, I could not turn it off!
In 1993, I left a career administrative position and joined the world of the unemployed, but mentally fertile, inventors without portfolio. I have been plagued (some consider it a blessing) with ideas for products, methods, books, movies, you name it... I have to give them away to get rid of them!
I am not alone. Many inventors I have met have told me about the same phenomenon. They can't seem to turn off the switch. So... be careful what you wish for. And read no further if you don't want this curse!
Ok...You want to invent something, but you just don't get any ideas for things?
I'll let you in on the secret. Your brain already has the "idea switch" and uses it a lot. I bet that at work, for example, no matter what kind of job you have, you get plenty of ideas for doing things more efficiently, cheaper, faster, safer, or just plain better.
You are using your idea switch!
If you want to think like an inventor, just keep your switch turned on. Pay more attention to your daily activities at home, at school, on the road, wherever you are. You know your job well, but you also know how to clean, shop, drive a car, garden, bank, and plenty of other things. When you hear yourself sigh because you can't find your glasses, or you cut yourself every time you use a certain piece of equipment, or your vacuum cleaner blows out more dust than it takes in ... Stop right there. Let your frustrations lead to ideas! Solve those problems!
The answers may not come to you right away. Make it an exercise. Write the problems down and come back to them with a solution, or a few possible solutions. Get into the habit: identify the problem, create a solution. Once you start practicing this process, your brain will apply it, quite readily and automatically, to many circumstances. (Don't say I didn't warn you!)
My first product emanated from a dry skin problem. I couldn't reach the middle of my back to apply skin cream. At that time, there were two things on the market to apply lotion to the back, and they both sucked up more cream than they distributed. So, I created a device that would efficiently and smoothly distribute cream.
If you have dry skin, or any skin at all, your back seems to itch more than other areas of your body. In 1993, the best available back scratcher was the wooden Chinese hand; can you imagine? Ergonomics was really important to me. I wanted a self-scratcher that felt like fingernails and would feel the same no matter which way it was directed by the user - up or down, right or left, or diagonally. I designed such a scratcher as an attachment for the cream applicator.
Then I saw that I could achieve another goal: by creating more functions for my applicator, I could actually reduce the number of items that clutter up our showers. I found the most efficient materials available for bathing and made them into a reversible exfoliator/cleanser that was machine washable. Thus a dual purpose cleanser was added, as well as a massage attachment, and I obtained three patents for my do-it-all back device.
Two years later, BacKnack®, the first product I ever developed, débuted at the Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, much to my exquisite delight! Before the store opened, while I was setting up the demonstration area, sales associates came over to me and asked me questions about it. One saleswoman said, "Oh, I thought up something exactly like that a few years ago!"
I wasn't at all surprised. She was an inventor too! The difference, of course, was that I turned the idea into a product, and she didn't.