Is there such a thing as a 'mad inventor'?

I know and have worked with many inventors and inventors' clubs over the years and can tell you inventing is a tough pastime.

Traditionally, people considered inventors to be older men with white hair. They would use pejorative and slightly dismissive phrases such as ‘mad’ or ‘shed’ and believe that they spent their time at the bottom of the garden devising increasingly cracked pot inventions that had limited if any commercial application.

This impression is something that the media, historically at least, has done little to dispel but things are changing. Inventing is, slowly at least, becoming better understood. OK, it may have a further to go before it can be considered ‘cool’ but it is getting there.

We still forget that many devices have to be ‘invented’ and that without certain key inventions (and inventors) our lives would be very different.

To name but a few well-known ones, consider Graham Alexander Bell, Karl Benz, Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers. There may be controversy over the specifics but between them they helped create the telephone, car, electric light and the aeroplane.

I suspect however, none was very well-off and probably would not be considered ‘successful’ in term of the words modern definition.

In fact, they may well have been considered mad crack-pots in their time, at least until they were ‘successful’ or received public acclaim, much as many inventors are today.

Many inventors may not be the most commercially minded of people. They may not be gifted sales people nor well-connected and may struggle to know how to market their ideas.

Furthermore, they should perhaps, be testing an invention’s commercial potential and proving its commercial value before applying for a patent or relevant IP, but none of this means their ideas are worthless or that they should be termed ‘mad’.

Inventing is often a hobby. Many inventors enjoy inventing and are not too worried about market realities. They work hard and continue to try and create new things irrespective of public opinion, scrutiny and criticism. This is more than most of us are prepared to do.

Even if whatever they invent does not work commercially it does not make it valueless. It will be a learning experience, part of the inventing and product development process and could simply be a step towards something else.

Whatever their rationale, they are trying to create and make things to solve problems and are willing to be judged on that basis. OK, perhaps the problems are not as significant as they believe and their commercial acumen may be lacking, but perhaps we should be taking time to support rather than dismiss them.

It is after all, almost impossible to tell whether an idea will be successful until it is, and this depends on what ‘success’ actually means. There are plenty of examples of superior inventions failing and inferior products succeeding. The Betamax format was widely considered superior to VHS but the latter is the one that prevailed.

Bruce Ferstein once said that ‘The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success’. We may all have our preferred definitions of success and whilst most inventors won’t satisfy them, they enjoy what they do and are prepared to be judged by the rest of us and should be credited for this.

There are also plenty of inventors out there who make a good living through their inventions and those who are not household names but have invented products we use every day. After all, who is to say who will be the next James Dyson or Steve Jobs and I think we can all agree they have been successful whatever your definition?