Reinventing existing products is a technique used by many prolific inventors. Most inventions are not new creations but modifications or tweaks of past or existing solutions. James Webb Young in his book A Technique for Producing Ideas (Young, 1940) describes ideas as “nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements”.
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Let’s look at two related products that have each been reinvented literally hundreds of times.
A friend of mine collects and restores old cars; he has a barn full of extremely well-restored vehicles. He concentrates on cars manufactured before 1919. When I first visited I was struck by the models that were electrically powered. It’s not a new idea. An invention that made electric vehicles possible was the creation of rechargeable batteries, which can be traced to 1859 with the invention of the lead-acid battery by Gaston Plante (France). This was a reinvention of the battery. The battery has been reinvented hundreds of times since and is a good example of inventions that are not something entirely “new” but an adaptation of something that already exists.
When looking for an inventive problem to tackle, don’t overlook what exists and could be improved on. In my upcoming workbook, written to accompany my book Invent, Innovate and Prosper I detail our efforts to reinvent the bug net hat. Look for things that bug you (pun intended) to find a product to invent again.
The Invention of Cars
One definition of inventing is combining what exists in new ways to create new uses or usefulness that hasn’t been previously recognized. Exactly who first invented the automobile is debated – doing so had to combine a lot of parts and components that already existed into a new use form. Henry Ford was sued for infringement for assembling an automobile. He testified that “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work…”
.When you pick your inventive direction, begin the development of a solution by studying what you might reinvent to create your new invention.