Our March 6 cover story on inventor Jerome Lemelson, the 1995 Design
News Engineer of the Year, triggered a flood of calls and letters from our
readers. Most came from disillusioned engineers who could not get their pet
inventions beyond the idea stage and were looking for some advice from Lemelson,
one of the most successful inventors in U.S. history with some 500 patents.
One engineer responding to the article--Lyle Haugland of Boeing--provided what I thought was an excellent analysis of frustrated would-be inventors. He calls them "The Golden Handcuffs Generation." These are individuals who for various reasons cannot, or think they cannot, pull away from their careers and other commitments enough to bring their innovative ideas to fruition. As Haugland sees it, the actual or imagined "handcuffs" that keep these engineers from following their dreams include:
Marriage and family commitments and responsibilities.
Haugland has given invention a great deal of thought as a former process improvement expert for the Boeing Defense & Space Group. He argues that corporations and schools could do a lot more to remove the constraints that frustrate creative engineers. More colleges should offer courses in invention and innovation development and marketing. Companies should allow talented engineers to take paid or unpaid sabbaticals to pursue their inventions. Still another need: marketing companies that do not charge individuals until an invention is commercially viable.
All of these are good ideas that could encourage more engineers to conquer their fears and act on their dreams. If you know of such programs, please let us know about them, and we'll spread the word.