I frequently compare and contrast my 30 years working in the corporate world as a telecom project manager versus my 15 years as an inventor and entrepreneur.
Virtually none of what I learned in the corporate world was helpful for the inventing world. In fact, the two are near opposites.
A typical day during my corporate life was jam-packed with teleconference meetings, often with as many as 20+ people on the calls. Most of the meetings, unfortunately, were unproductive use of my time, listening to colleagues bickering over minutiae of projects they knew almost nothing about. At the same time, my primary responsibility was to manage projects on behalf of 3 to 6 different external clients. Success in my role required a meticulous juxtaposition between pleasing my bosses (attending Dilbertesque meetings) versus pleasing my collective clients by keeping their projects on schedule. Since much of my time was allocated and mandated into attending needless meetings, I had to squeeze every ounce of productivity out my limited time on behalf of clients. My days consisted of long hours, high-stress, high-speed sprints where multi-tasking was the order of the day – even though the human brain does not actually multi-task.
Does this sound familiar to you? I'll bet it does.
Fortunately, I developed a useful portfolio of skills from my 30 years in the corporate world. I became very time and schedule conscious, adept at prioritizing conflicting tasks, and able to maintain sanity in a chaotic high-stress environment. I learned to balance the conflicting demands of my many bosses – both internal and external – and somehow keep them happy.
In 2009, I finally left the corporate world and went full-time in my business as an inventor and entrepreneur.
Naturally, I began applying those corporate skills and habits to my new creative, inventive endeavors. I carefully planned each day based upon what seemed to be my most important tasks. Guess what? It was a disaster! Really. Why?
Creativity cannot and should not be scheduled.
It is a sort of slippery ‘octopus' that cannot be sliced, diced, put into a box or scheduled in 1-hour time blocks. In a typical day, none of my carefully planned tasks got done. Instead some previously unconsidered idea popped into my head and I'd spend all day working on that new idea. Within a few days, my logical brain would have decided that the new exciting idea actually had some fatal flaws, so it had to be dropped. All that work seemed to be wasted.
For example, I spent quite a few days designing a prototype for a more efficient leaf compactor – a way to pack twice as many yard leaves into a bag by compressing them much like a piston. Seems like a good product that leaf rakers everywhere would love. It looked great on paper. Turns out, attempting to compress dry leaves just pushes out lots of air – temporarily. As soon as I let go, all the air flowed back in and the leaves ‘fluffed' up again. Another ‘great' idea into the circular file.
I felt frustrated, spending lots of time on creative ideas that didn't work.
Everybody's Talking About a New Way of Walking
One day it hit me, I was never going to succeed as an inventor by using my corporate skills and habits. To quote Dr. Hook it was blowing my mind, I needed a New Way of Walking.
One more cliché: I had to learn to go with the flow. So I did just that and am now comfortable working in a completely different way.
This week, for example, I have spent a lot of time developing and tweaking Facebook ads. I'm not very good at it, so it feels unproductive, but it's not. I am learning a completely new skill that will benefit my website AlanBeckley.com and my business. I'm not an attorney, but I have spent much of today adding proposed changes to a licensing agreement for one of my products. I learned how to develop my website in WordPress – that took several weeks of learning and work for me, but now I can do most of my own website development without having to pay a developer. I'm learning how to use Aweber and Leadpages software – two other things I knew nothing about 3 months ago. In the short term, none of this is making much money for my business, but in the long term, collectively, I should develop ongoing passive income – a key goal for my business.
Do you want to succeed as an inventor? Here is my suggestion for you.
Learn to trust your instincts and (dare I say it?) your intuition.
Learn to be comfortable with spending lots of time on new ideas or concepts, only later to have to reject them. Also, be prepared that you will always be working on a collage of different tasks and ideas and that most of them will not work out in the long-term. But it is not wasted effort at all for two reasons: you will learn something of value from every task; and a few of the ideas you work on may just make you a lot of money. It has worked out for me.