The who invented it myth and eureka moment that never happened

In search of the glorified eureka momentEvery question that begins with "who invented it" should get this as an auto response, "it is usually a fallacy to credit a single individual with the invention of a complicated device. Complicated devices draw on the works of multiple people."

We spend a lot of time looking where to give credit to people for various invention when they were nothing more than the next step in the evolution of the world of technology.

Inventions during the Industrial Revolution involved a series of new devices and creations where man power, and literally horse power, was being replaced by machines. From steam engines that turned manual labor in mechanical contraptions, to the automobile, that turned the horse power of a live horse, to the horse power of an internal combustion engine. The inventions of the industrial age were an evolution of doing existing things in very new ways. The 18th century idea of an invention was genuinely more individual and less systemic.

It was a different world in the industrial age of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The greatest minds and the greatest laboratories were not inventing things at universities, but were working in what resembled an industrial machine shop. Thomas Edison institutionalized the concept of the individual inventor, his invention factory took the concept of one man in a lab tinkering with an issue and changed it into project management where one man hired a team to do more than he could as an individual. People say that Edison stole ideas because he had other people do the experiments and he took credit. No, that was the real genius, he created the invention factory. There are many menial tasks that need done, he automated the process.

When the internet and personal computers were being developed in the 1960s and 1970s, most of the geeks were doing their work at universities, much of the work sponsored by government agencies like DARPA (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.)

What does it take to become a great inventor?

Being an inventor is not a field of study, it is a state of mind. Great inventors, innovators, industrialists, all had one thing in common, a passion for their ideas, and a passion to turn their visions into reality. There are endless stories of "inventors" who were always tinkering with things. They had a burning desire to understand how things worked.

Using a tree branch to help us pry something apart, we have invented a lever. Using a tree trunk that rolls to help us move something heavy, rather than dragging it across a flat surface, we have the beginnings of a wheel. As these very simple solutions to very simple problems became refined, they become inventions.

The nature of man is solving problems, and the solutions to these problems are inventions. And the successful inventor will tell you, it is more than just having an idea, it is turning that idea into something people can use.

Inventor or innovator?

Often there is a bit of a smug attitude that favors giving someone credit for an invention versus just being an innovator. A good example for my thought is remarks I've seen is regarding Henry Ford, "he didn't invent anything."

Even if Henry Ford invented nothing, he changed everything. Ford did not invent the automobile, Ford did not invent the assembly line. What Ford did is improve upon the assembly line with a passion that drove down the price of an automobile significantly. He turned the automobile from just a rich man's toy, to something the average American could afford. Ford improved upon the design of the automobile and the assembly line and revolutionized an industry.

The concept of the automobile, and specifically the electric automobile, is an idea that has been around for more than 100 years. Henry Ford thought about electric automobile, as did other inventors, over a hundred years ago. But what is one of the hottest topics in modern technology? The electric car? There is a fascination in recent years of the work of Tesla Motors and recently Faraday Future made news with the showing of a new electric automobile prototype.

Isn't technology an ongoing evolution of ideas and innovations? Do you see the work of modern electric car companies like Tesla Motors and Faraday Future as inventing new things or combining existing things? The more important question I would ask, is why does that distinction even matter?

In search of the glorified eureka moment

There are many special individuals have those eureka moments, where one idea changes everything. There are visionaries who have an idea and see what is possible before the technology exists to make it real. There are inventors who take visions and made them real. There are innovators who take a good invention and make it great. There are the industrialists who take an invention and develop it into an industry.

Study people to learn from their success, and their failures. Try to understand when a burning desire can turn into a dangerous obsession.

Question everything. Find something that really interests you, and learn everything you can about the topic. How does it work, how could it be made better.

Geeks introduce us to brave new worlds, with visions of the future. Geeks pick up where others left off, to turn a vision into a reality.

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