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Inventors Idol

© By Stephen Paul Gnass

The hit TV show "American Idol" features auditions for singers in cities across the country. What's made the show such a big hit is the sheer numbers of individuals with no talent who turn out for these auditions, but who actually believe that they have a great singing voice.

I think it's obvious that some of these people are just off-the-wall and crazy. But you can see that some of them are self-deluded without one iota of talent and zero training, yet believe that they can sing, and even curse the judges for not recognizing their talent! And while others seem to have potential, they audition although they've never taken a singing lesson in their life or done anything to develop their talent, so their singing is often painfully off key, like scratching on a chalk board. Yet they all audition for "American Idol" as if they will magically be "discovered".

Inventing "Deja Vu"

Well this scenario rings "deja vu" and real familiar with me, because in my experience consulting with thousands of individuals with a new idea over the past two decades, I've found that many inventors with raw ideas are a lot like these people who audition on American Idol.

I've found that newbie inventors think that they don't have to do anything with their raw ideas. They think that their ideas are automatically worth a million dollars, and believe that if they can just show their raw concept to the right people, that their idea will magically be discovered - with no study, no work, no investment of any kind. I get daily requests for "the list" of magic companies that will take on inventors' ideas.

Recently, I was flabbergasted when my own brother, who's a renowned teacher to the major animation studios, called me and started doing what most people with new ideas do. Because I didn't believe that he was going to make the same request, I decided to let him continue to talk. Then, in a whisper tone, like he was confiding in me, he proceeded to tell me about his million dollar idea. When he finished, he told me that I could have the idea for free and run with it and keep the profits, and just give him a little percentage back for his idea.

Also, I was recently contacted by a very successful retired CEO from a Fortune 1000 company, and was again surprised when he told me that he had many ideas that he had come up with that he wanted to sell, looking to me to either be his agent or to find him an agent. With his years of experience, I thought for sure that he, if anyone, should have known better. I told him that for an idea to have value, that you have to put value into the idea. This value comes from maintaining a proper inventors logbook, reading and studying, becoming educated in the field, doing the proper due diligence, research and development, etc. Yet when I mentioned the personal work that he needed to do, he said that he was too busy with his voluntary nonprofits and he still persisted that there must be somebody to represent his ideas and to sell them to corporate America.

I often feel that people just don't want to hear the reality. I've discovered that I can only guide and help people when they're in reality and are committed to doing what's necessary. Then I can help them avoid taking the wrong paths i.e. buying frivolous products and services, and guide them to take the right action at the right time, while spending as little money as possible in the process ie. to test the product's value and validity.

Myth of the Million Dollar Idea

Unfortunately, the myth that an idea is automatically worth a million is one that has plagued the invention industry for decades and is probably the most destructive myth of all. Most of the time, individuals with this belief end up in the hands of the invention scams, who aggressively advertise and promise inventors millions, where inventors end up paying thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, for worthless services. Because inventors are convinced that their raw idea is automatically worth a million dollars, they think that the money they're paying these companies will be a small sacrifice to get the millions. But of course, they never get the millions, and then they end up in debt because they really couldn't afford the thousands of dollars that they paid.

Well soon, a new show will air in mid March by the same creator of "American Idol" [Simon Cowell], which is called "AMERICAN INVENTOR". The TV show will be offering a million dollar prize and will feature many people who think that their idea is automatically worth a million dollars.

Similar to American Idol, the success of American Inventor will no doubt hinge on the wacky, silly, and ridiculous inventions that are probably just scribbles on pieces of paper, or amateurish prototypes, from a wide range of inventors who think that their untested, raw idea is worth a million dollars. So this show will now exploit and expose this kind of thinking in the inventing field.

But on the other hand, it's important not to get discouraged by the negative portrayal of the inventor on this show. Remember that TV shows are primarily "entertainment" and are designed to get high ratings which translate into advertising dollars. So even though American Inventor calls itself a "reality show", it will not be a true "reality" show about inventing. At the end of the show after a few months, there will only be one winner for the million dollar prize. In reality, inventing doesn't work that way.

But like many of you, I'm still looking forward to seeing the show, and think that it could be very interesting. No doubt it will also feature some great ideas. I think that definitely, the show will raise the awareness of inventing, that's a good thing. And if it helps people with new ideas realize how ridiculous it is to think that raw ideas are automatically worth a million dollars, and to see how this looks to rational people, then hopefully, this will offset the negative image of inventors that this show will surely project and perpetuate.

Update: The ABC TV series "American Inventor" debuted in March 2006 and was executive produced by Simon Cowell, the infamous judge from American Idol. However, the show lasted just 2 seasons through August 2007.

It's the Doing that's Important

People who have a flash of inspiration, but do nothing with it, and later see it in stores, often think that somehow someone must have stolen it from them. But the truth is that it was only a figment of their imagination that never made it beyond the flash of genius or Eureka stage. Their idea was never really worth anything because they never did anything with it.

I often tell clients my personal story of my "million dollar idea". Years ago, I had a flash of inspiration about a certain toll-free phone number and service to offer. I told my colleagues about it, and nobody was excited about it, so even though I had secured the toll-free number with AT&T, my enthusiasm waned and I let it expire. Years later, driving on the road, I saw a billboard with a big bouquet of flowers popping out the top of the billboard that read "1-800-FLOWERS". Well, this was my idea! But of course I realized that I had no ownership in the idea nor the company or profits because I had dropped the concept and never did anything with it. The person who takes action with an idea is the one who owns it and profits from it. With ideas, it's the "doing" that's important, not the ideas themselves.

Of course, anything is possible, so you could find a person with a beautiful, great singing voice who has never taken any lessons or practiced at all. But it's very, very rare, it's the exception. For most people, in order to develop a good singing voice that can hit the right notes, or have the right tones, etc., it takes commitment and many years of lessons and training and practice in order to become a professional singer. Successful pop singers like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson started singing from the time they were just kids and they practiced, auditioned, and performed for many, many years before they became the "overnight" pop stars that they are today.

With another popular hit show, "Dancing with the Stars", the celebrities that are winning are the ones who are putting in 100% commitment to learn and train how to dance. In order to learn how to dance and compete in such a short timeframe, they literally practice for many hours everyday, and have put everything else in their lives on hold. For them, gliding across the dance floor comes with a lot of sweat, and often tears.

I'm not saying that inventors need to put their lives on hold, but they definitely need to have the same kind of commitment and dedication. This is what I teach in my consultations, that inventing is a process, it's a journey. While there's a rare chance that someone with an idea could get a million dollar deal, for the most part, there is a timetable and series of steps that are necessary in order to get an invention successfully to market. I've told many people and clients repeatedly over the years, that inventing is not a lottery ticket, it's not a get rich quick fix -- with the exception for that one lucky winner on the Inventors Idol, oh I mean, the American Inventor.

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Stephen Paul Gnass is founder of, Executive Director of the National Congress of Inventor Organizations [NCIO] and an inventors advocate. Mr. Gnass speaks on the subject of the "Business of Inventing" [tm] and has had his articles reprinted in various magazines. As Senior Consultant with the Gnass Group, he consults independent inventors and small businesses. He can be emailed at or visit

A SPECIAL NOTE: Complimentary Brainstorm:
If you're further along the path of inventing and are ready to launch your product, and need assistance in determining whether to license your idea or build a company around your invention, I'll more then happy to offer you a Complimentary Brainstorm, no obligation. For a Complimentary Brainstorm, please be sure to include your phone number with area code and your time zone with the best times to call you back in your email. Sincerely Stephen Paul Gnass

I offer additional brainstorming as part of the cyber-exhibiting program. Or, if you have special projects or problems and you need brainstorming, I also offer consulting on retainer on a sliding scale. ***************************************

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A World of InventingTM: InventionConvention.Com
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..National Congress of Inventor Organizations (NCIO)
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..Invention Connection[r] Cyberspace Convention

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