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1. Analytic Invention


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 1. Analytic Invention

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When we started to write this book, we began in the deep theory, but on reviewing it concluded that it would be more helpful to begin with something more immediately useful. If you read no further than this chapter and then go and apply the methods described here, you should be able to invent with the same approach as many great engineers and inventors of the past (although we hope you read on, of course, increasing your skills still further).

There is a whole range of approaches that can be used to create new ideas, ranging from a structured, analytical approach to softer, more conceptual methods. For many inventions, the analytical methods, though simple, are very effective and this is where we will start.

The basis of analytical invention is very simple. First, you decompose, breaking things down into manageable pieces and then you and examine, question and consequently improve the individual parts.


A standard scientific and engineering approach to problems is to decompose the item in question into smaller elements which can be dealt with on an individual basis. This general principle gives rise to a number of methods which are described below.


Once a problem situation has been decomposed into various constituent elements, questioning provides a way of discovering and challenging the deeper and unwritten detail. Questioning is also useful before or without decomposition, to expose assumptions and elements that have not been considered.


Constraints of invention

When both nature and people are inventing, we each need to make something which works, resulting in a form which fulfils a useful purpose. Buildings and other structures should withstand the weather and other external forces on them. There should be enough energy to complete the task.

However, there are always constraints. Nature has an amazing range of materials available and medicines are still being created from newly discovered Amazonian plants, but it is still constrained in the biological formation of fibrous and calciferous materials. Our harnessing of energy has allowed us to smelt metals, crack oil and otherwise generate a staggering number of materials, all with different and interesting properties that we can use in our inventions, but we still have constraints.
Human invention constraints are often around cost, either direct material cost or around factors such as time and ease of manufacture. Nature has, literally, all the time in the world; we are constrained by market windows. Nature’s factories are biological and growth-oriented, resulting in irregular shapes. Ours are mostly constrained by machines and assembly, resulting in rigid, regular shapes. Financial cost is a human invention: nature’s costs are only in the trade-offs between big and small, hard or soft.

One of our challenges, then, is to extend our invention skills to reducing time, costs and manufacturing methods. We can use nature as a source of inspiration, but also must recognise that it also has constraints, and when we copy it, we should seek only what it can give, and not be held back by its limitations.


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