When I was a freshman at Murray State University, I met one of the inventors of the aerosol spray can when he spoke at our school. As an 18-year-old, I was highly impressed by someone of his significance. Even though the concept of aerosol spray originated as early as 1790, the modern aerosol can that made possible the products like hair spray, brushless shaving cream, and spray paint was created in 1943 by Lyle David Goodloe and W.N. Sullivan, researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The invention came as a result of the U.S. Government funding research during World War II to find a portable way for military personnel to spray malaria-carrying insects.
In the late 1990s, I was even more impressed when I sat in on a session in New York that featured inventor Stanley Mason. At the time, he had over 100 inventions and held 55 patents on items we use daily. Beginning with his first creation as a seven-year-old (a clothespin fishing lure that he sold to his friends) he never lost his desire to invent practical products. In 1949, Mason had his first major breakthrough. While changing his little boy’s diapers, he was inspired to invent and patent the world’s first disposable, pin-free diaper that was contoured to fit a baby’s bottom. This innovation was the beginning of things to come.
In a period of 50 years, his inventions included the squeezable ketchup bottle, granola snack bars, plastic microwave cookware, disposable surgical masks, instant splints and casts for broken limbs, heat-holding pizza boxes, dental floss dispensers, door alarms, easy-open bandage packages, and many other items in the areas of cosmetics, medical devices, and food packaging.
Mason, president and CEO of Simco, a research and development company in Weston, CT, and professor of entrepreneurship at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, shared in the session how he invented the items and how we all can learn to think more creatively. He claimed it all begins with having a positive attitude. He said that pessimists usually see problems as insurmountable. As a result, they just continue to put up with things the way they are rather than trying to solve existing problems. However, Mason warned that being a wide-eyed optimist can be just as bad if you think everything is great and you are always satisfied with the status quo.
He said that when he developed the snack bar, he had been asked to invent a low-calorie meal that would fit in a pocket or briefcase. He knew it had to be made of elements that did not spoil and that would naturally resist bacteria. So he gathered all the available products, such as dried peanuts, citron, bacon bits, and granola. When he mixed variations of these and “cemented” them, the first snack bar was created.
He advised us to learn to question complacency, not always follow the rules, and not accept everything we are told. If we become complacent and never question why rules exist, it is difficult to see things differently and make new paths. We shouldn’t accept that there is always only one right answer to a question. Mason encouraged his listeners to try new experiences rather than getting in ruts and staying there. He also encouraged us to play mental games, such as asking ourselves weird questions and then racking our brains for the answers. He claimed that forcing ourselves to remember names, do calculations in our heads, guess how tall buildings are and then count the floors, and other such exercises help us to be creative.
Mason warned against being judgmental, editing our creative impulses, and not allowing ourselves to think foolish thoughts. He said one of the most important mental skills for an inventor is looking at the environment carefully with keen observation. He also suggested putting ourselves inside things mentally, such as imagining how it would feel inside a lawn mower when the starter rope is pulled.
I invite you – as Mason invited us at the seminar – to go invent a product, method, procedure, or service that will make a positive difference.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 2500 events, can be contacted at email@example.com or 865-436-7478. His books – including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, and Are We Communicating Yet? – are available in stores, at www.carlmays.com and www.amazon.com.