Thirty years ago on Monday, President Reagan made Thomas Edison's birthday 'National Inventor's Day' in the USA.
Edison, possibly the most successful Inventor of all time, published 1093 patents. Many of his inventions changed the world and his company General Electric or GE is still one of the biggest in the world.
I often wonder what he might think of today's Social Media obsessed world. Would he have a Twitter account, how many followers might he have and would he too enjoy mocking Piers Morgan?
As both a marketing and innovation genius, I expect so. Like me, he would probably love the conversation these technologies allow with consumers, the ability to find out what people like and dislike about things and the ability to potentially launch new items to consumers directly. As a result of The Apprentice I receive many tweets asking me to solve problems, which I love to tackle. As the saying goes necessity is the mother of invention, the best inventions start from a problem or a frustration and I believe that we are just seeing the start of a new form of innovation.
As the Internet has changed so has the high street and, with the sad demise of Comet, HMV and Blockbuster, I believe it will also change invention and the way products are made and come to market. Consumers are now able to tweet their frustrations directly to brands and those who listen, react and move quickly will be in a stronger position.
As we are seeing with the recent announcement that the BBC are to trial select shows online ahead of scheduled TV transmission, I believe we will start to see new products trialed online direct to consumers before they appear on television or in shops.
This Social Innovation could also affect the way things are manufactured. To develop and react fast, companies may need to avoid the months of delay in manufacturing in China and manufacture more locally. This will be great news for UK manufacturers, who are able to react fast and who are willing to work in small volumes. This local manufacturing and online pre-launch, would also reduce the risk involved in developing new products, and allow companies to experiment with new ideas with less financial implications.
Brilliantly, social media technologies that let consumers talk directly to companies, increase local manufacture, speed up supply chains and lower the risk of invention could enable consumers to play a direct part in the process of invention. For example if one of the 8% of men who, according to today's Stylfile survey, admit to using their girlfriend's fake tan wanted a product more suitable for men's skin, they could contact the brand secretly and pretty rapidly be able to purchase.
One day I believe it will be consumers who are the inventors. Consumers who are dissatisfied or frustrated by brands will directly influence what Nike, Proctor and Gamble and others develop.
At Stylfile we are trying these principles. On 3 March we launched a mini version of the highly successful S-Clipper 'Smooth Nail Clipper'. This smaller version is the direct result of people tweeting me saying they wanted a smaller version of the original launched at Christmas. We hope to launch more products in this way later in the year.
Today this process is uncommon, difficult and slow. However one day this Consumer Innovation may only take a few days and be wide spread. It's also possible that in a similar way to bloggers or YouTubers, who started doing it for free and are now paid thousands, individual inventors who start recommending ideas for free will one day receive sizable pay outs for their inventive suggestion. So that idea you have lurking inside your brain may one day reach and influence the market.
In the last 30 years since the dawn of National Inventors Day amazing things have been invented. However in the next 30 years it could be invention that is re-invented.
If you would like to take your idea further my advice would be to start researching, know every product in the market relevant to your idea, where they are sold, how much for, who buys them. If possible buy every competitor product on the market and personally test it out. Use this information to develop and improve your innovation, define your unique market and estimate a realistic retail price. How much will someone pay for your idea if it were on the shelf?
The Patent Database gb.espacenet.com, Google search, ebay and Amazon are great places to start. The British Library also provides some great services
Whilst researching the market start making prototypes. For me, it usually takes 10-100 prototypes before I get something that really works. Dyson famously made over 6000 prototypes of this first bagless vacuum. No matter what I'm prototyping the first 10 prototypes are usually made with a glue gun and cardboard. More advanced prototypes can usually be hacked together using cheap parts bought on ebay. The devil is often in the detail and I cannot recommend prototyping, testing, re-prototyping enough.