Book Review: Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World

Inventology-How-We-Dream-Up-Things-That-Change-the-World

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer. 

Everyone can be an inventor.

At least that’s the idea Pagan Kennedy emphasizes in her book Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World. Even if you have never aspired to be an inventor, Kennedy explains the role that consumers of a product play in the process of inventing. However, she mainly explores the patterns she found in her research of over 100 inventors.

Kennedy started her research writing for The New York Times‘ “Who Made That?” Column in 2012. She decided to expand her research into a book based on her term “inventology,” which she defines as “a new field of study” that looks at “what people actually do as they invent things.”

Inventology is broken up into five sections. The first four sections focus on the four major patterns Kennedy found, while the last section empowers readers to participate in finding creative solutions and inventions. The first section explains the importance of struggling with a problem for a long period of time in order to find a creative solution. The next part focuses on different methods of discovery. Kennedy emphasizes that even accidental inventions require a lot of creativity because you have to discover the invention’s true purpose. Part Three explains why inventors must create products that people in the future might need. Finally, the last section considers what helps some inventors successfully invent. For instance, people with knowledge in more than one field of study were better at solving problems and connecting the dots than people who were experts in one specific field.

I learned a lot from Inventology because I was guilty of Kennedy’s claim that most people think inventions come from big companies. We habitually say, “They should make this,” or, “They should fix this.” However, we often forget that we can fix whatever it is we’re complaining about. So I was particularly intrigued by the first section, which showcases “Lead Users.” These are people who became inventors after struggling “with problems for which no off-the-shelf solution [was] available.” Not only did these examples support Kennedy’s argument, but it was also fun to learn how smoke detectors, water guns, rolling suitcases, and sippy cups came into existence.

However, I got lost in some of the scientific examples, and other readers without a scientific background or interest probably will too. In particular, Chapter Six focuses heavily on the “medical serendipity” that leads to inventions. For example, Kennedy tells the tale of Murray Robinson, who researched the newly-labeled Smith-Magenis Syndrome:

They found patterns in the data that suggest the Smith-Magenis deletion disrupts the way that DNA is packaged in the cell – which would explain why one broken gene can affect everything from sleep pattern to finger shape.

This and other examples required outside knowledge of scientific language and concepts – knowledge I didn’t have. So in addition to learning about the process of discovery, I had to learn these scientific terms, which became confusing and pulled me out of the book. Frankly, I don’t think most readers will slow down to genuinely understand these concepts either.

In addition, partway through the book, I started to wonder why Kennedy included so many examples of discoveries and inventions. It all came together in Part Three when Kennedy presented some ideas from Genrich Altshuller, a Soviet fiction writer, inventor, and engineer best-known for his book, Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. Kennedy explains that:

To study the inventive mind, you must study inventions. 

After reading this idea, it made sense why Kennedy provided so many examples. It would have been helpful to be reminded of this importance of studying inventions throughout Inventology, so that I could have read it more purposefully instead of questioning why the book seemed like a collection of discovery stories.

Despite my occasional confusion, I really liked the message of InventologyKennedy empowers her readers by showing that we do not need a Ph.D or creative background to be inventors. We’re all capable of finding solutions to our problems, particularly the problems we wrestle with over a long period of time. It helped me to put to rest the mentality that I need someone else to create a solution for me.

Inventology won’t suddenly turn you into a brilliant inventorbut it leads and directs your thinking so you can produce useful inventions. And while a book about the study of invention might turn off readers who are not interested in inventing from the get-go, I think everyone can learn from this book. Inventology helps you learn how to think inventively – so even if you never create a physical invention like a gadget or a tool, you can still be inventive in the way you solve problems in your everyday life. So whether or not inventing is your superpower, you should pick up a copy of Inventology.

Intrigued? By the book here!

Written by Diana Kim

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer. 

Everyone can be an inventor.

At least that’s the idea Pagan Kennedy emphasizes in her book Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World. Even if you have never aspired to be an inventor, Kennedy explains the role that consumers of a product play in the process of inventing. However, she mainly explores the patterns she found in her research of over 100 inventors.

Kennedy started her research writing for The New York Times‘ “Who Made That?” Column in 2012. She decided to expand her research into a book based on her term “inventology,” which she defines as “a new field of study” that looks at “what people actually do as they invent things.”

Inventology is broken up into five sections. The first four sections focus on the four major patterns Kennedy found, while the last section empowers readers to participate in finding creative solutions and inventions. The first section explains the importance of struggling with a problem for a long period of time in order to find a creative solution. The next part focuses on different methods of discovery. Kennedy emphasizes that even accidental inventions require a lot of creativity because you have to discover the invention’s true purpose. Part Three explains why inventors must create products that people in the future might need. Finally, the last section considers what helps some inventors successfully invent. For instance, people with knowledge in more than one field of study were better at solving problems and connecting the dots than people who were experts in one specific field.

I learned a lot from Inventology because I was guilty of Kennedy’s claim that most people think inventions come from big companies. We habitually say, “They should make this,” or, “They should fix this.” However, we often forget that we can fix whatever it is we’re complaining about. So I was particularly intrigued by the first section, which showcases “Lead Users.” These are people who became inventors after struggling “with problems for which no off-the-shelf solution [was] available.” Not only did these examples support Kennedy’s argument, but it was also fun to learn how smoke detectors, water guns, rolling suitcases, and sippy cups came into existence.

However, I got lost in some of the scientific examples, and other readers without a scientific background or interest probably will too. In particular, Chapter Six focuses heavily on the “medical serendipity” that leads to inventions. For example, Kennedy tells the tale of Murray Robinson, who researched the newly-labeled Smith-Magenis Syndrome:

They found patterns in the data that suggest the Smith-Magenis deletion disrupts the way that DNA is packaged in the cell – which would explain why one broken gene can affect everything from sleep pattern to finger shape.

This and other examples required outside knowledge of scientific language and concepts – knowledge I didn’t have. So in addition to learning about the process of discovery, I had to learn these scientific terms, which became confusing and pulled me out of the book. Frankly, I don’t think most readers will slow down to genuinely understand these concepts either.

In addition, partway through the book, I started to wonder why Kennedy included so many examples of discoveries and inventions. It all came together in Part Three when Kennedy presented some ideas from Genrich Altshuller, a Soviet fiction writer, inventor, and engineer best-known for his book, Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. Kennedy explains that:

To study the inventive mind, you must study inventions. 

After reading this idea, it made sense why Kennedy provided so many examples. It would have been helpful to be reminded of this importance of studying inventions throughout Inventology, so that I could have read it more purposefully instead of questioning why the book seemed like a collection of discovery stories.

Despite my occasional confusion, I really liked the message of InventologyKennedy empowers her readers by showing that we do not need a Ph.D or creative background to be inventors. We’re all capable of finding solutions to our problems, particularly the problems we wrestle with over a long period of time. It helped me to put to rest the mentality that I need someone else to create a solution for me.

Inventology won’t suddenly turn you into a brilliant inventorbut it leads and directs your thinking so you can produce useful inventions. And while a book about the study of invention might turn off readers who are not interested in inventing from the get-go, I think everyone can learn from this book. Inventology helps you learn how to think inventively – so even if you never create a physical invention like a gadget or a tool, you can still be inventive in the way you solve problems in your everyday life. So whether or not inventing is your superpower, you should pick up a copy of Inventology.

Intrigued? By the book here!

Written by Diana Kim

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