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Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

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11.1 Five steps to invention

I've looked at what motivates people and organisations to invent. I'll look more closely now at what's actually involved in inventing something.

Wherever invention occurs, whether with a lone inventor or in a creative team within an organisation, there seem to be common factors involved. There have been many attempts over the past 100 years to explain the creative process that occurs while people are attempting to solve problems. I'm going to combine ideas from two such models of the steps involved in creative problem solving or invention. The first source is from the economic historian Abbott P. Usher's book A History of Mechanical Inventions (1954) and the second is from Brian Lawson's book How Designers Think (1990). Combining the models of Usher and Lawson produces five key steps.

Step 1 – identification of the problem

Recognising an unsolved problem or one with an unsatisfactory current solution and determining to solve it.

Step 2 – exploration

Collecting information to help understand the problem better and produce initial solutions.

Step 3 – incubation

Periods of relaxation allow subconscious thought.

Step 4 – act of insight

A solution suddenly appears by a mental act that goes beyond the act of skill normally expected of a trained professional in that field.

Step 5 – critical revision

The solution is fully explored, tested and revised into a workable solution, possibly involving further acts of insight.

I will examine these key steps a little further. I've already covered the first two stages to some extent in looking at where inventions come from. Therefore I'll only deal briefly with steps 1 and 2 and look in more detail at the others.