Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Case of the loose broomstick
Editor's note: Sam Asano's column on inventing debuted in the Portsmouth Herald earlier this year. We are publishing his collected columns in sequence in the Sunday and Monday business sections over the next several weeks after the which the new columns will appear on Mondays.
In the field of invention, there are no surefire theories to success. Learning how to invent really depends on following case studies.
Today, we follow the case No. 1301, the first case in 2013. The author has no idea whether this project will succeed in the end or whether it will fail. But I present this case to you as it happens in real time with my handwritten graphics. This is the identical process any inventor would go through.
I will start with a very simple case so as to acclimate you with the thinking environment of "invention."
A gentleman recently approached me with his problem. It was a simple one. He works a lot with a floor broom and other similar accessories. A floor broom is usually about 3 feet wide and has a hole in the center for the universal broomstick, with a metal screw tip (Figure 1). His complaint is that the floor broom is long and has a high leverage against the screw tip. The screw that attaches the broomstick very often becomes loose, causing the broom to flap around. When that happens, he has to stop working and tighten the broomstick to restart his work.
This, he says, is annoying and counterproductive. Why isn't there a mechanical solution to maintain a tight connection between the horizontal floor broom and the broomstick? Thus, in case No. 1301, the problem is spelled out.
One of the most important things to do when you think you have a problem is to ask whether a solution has already been invented and you don't know it. You should do this before anything else. As the human society is clever and productive, many solutions have been worked out already.
Looking at the simple geometric problem, I decided to go to Home Depot to see whether they had solved this problem. Sure enough, there are a bunch of brooms with metal struts fastened to both wings of the broom (Figure 2). Indeed, they had solved the problem, I thought.
I called this gentleman and stated the solution was available in the stores already: case closed! He said, not so fast. He was aware that the broom is sold with a fixed handle. But he insisted that didn't solve his problem. He has a bunch of cleaning accessories for his broomstick that are compatible with the screw mount. To him, a wide floor broom sold with fixed-wing struts makes the broomstick permanently affixed to the broom and negates the very principle of an interchangeable broomstick.
The foregoing is the real exchange between this gentleman and myself. It shows the reality of "invention;" that is, nothing is really clear-cut. For the uninitiated inventor, this is a major setback, enough to forget "invention" forever. However, an experienced, tough inventor would eat this type of setback for breakfast.
Case No. 1301 produces a fundamental issue of simple inventions. The broomstick industry has standardized its screw head to take on various accessories. Due to its penchant to loosen, the floor broom makers fastened the broom to the stick by bracing.
The solution had solved the floor broom problem but negated the convenience of an interchangeable screw-headed broomstick adaptable to many accessories. The next question: Is there need for developing a set of metal struts that can be easily attached to various accessories with minimum effort? Such a product shouldn't require any modification to the existing broomstick, floor broom or any other items.
If you have come this far, now you have tasted the beginning of being a 99 percent inventor.
Monday: Developing a solution.
Shintaro (Sam) Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.