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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Inventing should be a series of cascaded steps

Summer is going away fast. Soon, autumn leaves will paint the New England landscape and we will then head into the chill of winter. It is getting to the time when we become a bit more serious.

OK, what’s an invention, and what’s an innovation? An invention is quite clearly defined as a solution to a problem. Although in the process of inventing, you may end up creating some other problem(s), but at least you are solving the original problem. Meanwhile, an innovation is a little harder to define. An innovation could mean solutions to one or more problems. However, normally the word conjures the culturally aggressive approach to operations in general.

While an invention normally deals with a well-defined activity that comes with a problem requiring a solution, an innovation usually doesn’t include the concept of inventing a solution, but instead improving the operation consisting of a series of cascaded steps.

The word invention requires delineation of the relationship between the original problem and the developed solution. Meanwhile, the word innovation often refers to a vague notion that implies a search for improvement or difference.

Now that we have defined the difference between invention and innovation, we should go a bit deeper into categorizing inventions. By placing your idea into a category, your thought process will go efficiently and smoother. I am categorizing inventions into groups with names that everyone can understand.

1) Honest Work (HW): This type of invention to create a solution is a simple, but honest, work by a person(s) who know the process intimately. (Yes, there’s always an exception). There are literally millions of inventions that belong in this category. All industrial trades are full of these items. One small improvement at a time, and the operation’s efficiency rises bit by bit.

2) Disruptive Work (DW): A quantum leap in the process results in a massive improvement in various performance factors. However, this is not caused by a group of very intelligent inventors, but are often caused by happenstance or “dumb luck.” Yet, the end result is nevertheless “disruptive” to the conventional method, and they often succeed quite well.DW doesn’t mean it uses never-heard of methods. It often combines several technologies to end up with a product that can be unique and adds a strong convenience to users. iPhone and tablets belong to this category.

3) Blue Sky (BS): This is a group of inventions caused by fantasy inventors. They often have no market, and quite likely never will. Yet, these inventors continue to develop these inventions, sometimes called solutions looking for a problem. A good example is a car that also can fly. Chances are it won’t be a good car, nor good plane. But the concept is attractive, and could attract investors with similar mindsets. Ninety-nine percent of inventors should stay away from this category because they will only see a loss of money.

Below, I have listed the detailed axis of inventions.

A problem can be defined by 10 categories: Remember, under each large category, these 10 sections can exist. Therefore, a section called BS-1 means a dream-like solution that saves labor in some process. HW-1 means a straight improvement in labor saving, etc.

The 10 categories are: A high amount of labor needed to accomplish the task; basic safety issues; large amount of annoyance, such as noise, high temperature, discomfort; extension of human ability, such as flight or speed; an expansion of human sensory capability (magnified sight); an expansion of human physical ability (muscle development: energy generation, such as fuel creation; intellectual creations; an effort to extract data against a high amount of noise; and a synthetic problem, which is a combination of two or more problems.

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’s improved our life. He is a businessman and inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems and is credited as the original inventor of the portable fax machine. He developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at 

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