We have talking phones that call us by name and cars that park themselves. We see them less as inventions than advancements brought to us by Apple and Ford. But individual inventors still exist, bringing new products to the marketplace without corporate support. It takes ingenuity, tenacity and salesmanship. In fact, thinking like an inventor could benefit workers in corporate jobs. Their creation would be a more satisfactory, successful career.
An Edison-like approach to work involves daily practices and long-term commitments. Here are just a few of them.
• Keep your eyes peeled for problems. “Inventors identify things that aren’t working and come up with creative ways to solve those problems,” says Tamara Monosoff, inventor of the TP Saver (it stops kids and pets from unrolling toilet paper) and author of “The Mom Inventors Handbook: How to Turn Your Great Idea into the Next Big Thing” (McGraw-Hill, 2014).
Identifying problems in the workplace isn’t difficult, but it’s rare for someone to take action. Being a problem solver makes a person stand out as a potential leader.
• Find ways to do things better. This isn’t the same as problem solving because a product or process can be working just fine, yet an inventor will ferret out inefficiencies. Inducted this year into his alma mater’s Hall of Fame, retired engineer Stanley Goldfader recalled in his acceptance speech a college project requiring him to take apart a common light bulb socket and reassemble it using the most time-efficient method. Throughout his career, “that lesson has never left my mind,” he says. “Whether I was managing a gray iron foundry, manufacturing 30,000 sofas a week or building exercise treadmills – everything to me looked like a lamp socket.” In other words, everything can be improved upon.
• Be curious. It killed the cat, but it drives inventors and can help employees advance quickly. “When you’re new to a company, field or position, it’s in your best interest to be a sponge and learn as much as you can,” says Amanda Augustine, a job search expert with TheLadders, a mobile professional network.
Ask how things work. Research ways to improve them, letting your curiosity lead you beyond the usual resources. “If your suggestions impact the bottom line, your career is sure to move in the right direction,” Augustine says.
• Never fear. Learn to see mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. “Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time, failed time and time again until he finally succeeded,” says Anthony Graziano, a regional managing director at Randstad in New York.
• Make like a salesman. Regardless of job description, everybody sells. Inventors must pitch their products to investors. Employees must “sell” ideas to the boss. So get good at pitching, urges Akos Jankura, inventor of the Survival Steel Firestarter and other products, and co-host of “My Cool Inventions Radio.”
Let’s say you’re trying to persuade your company to invest in a new piece of equipment. The wrong way to go about this or any other pitch is to emphasize features and benefits, Jankura says. “The correct way is, ‘Here’s the problem. Here’s the solution,’” he adds.
Your great idea has to solve a specific problem. So does that pricy new piece of equipment.
End your pitch with a “call to action,” or next step. For example, you could ask your boss to endorse your idea at the next meeting.
• Don’t leave your job at the office. It’s fine to choose to not check email after hours. But don’t stop thinking about work because you’re off the clock. “Inventors don’t stop inventing in their head when they leave work,” says Bob Hadick, president of Russ Hadick & Associates, of the Sanford Rose Associates.
• Play to win. “The scientific community is extremely competitive. Any successful inventor has this tenacious attitude towards winning, and this competitive spirit is what separates them from the rest of the pack,” Graziano says. “This attitude is required to get ahead in the corporate world.”