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  • Writer's pictureRobert Cantrell

Work Backward

October 31, 2022

By Robert Cantrell - Registered Patent Agent

One of my favorite techniques for inventing is inverting a solution. Inverting a solution means performing a function opposite the expected way. For example, an airplane moves its fuselage to create airflow over fixed wings, while a helicopter creates airflow over wings by moving (rotating) those wings around a fixed fuselage.

You will find inversions in many places. Treadmills, for example, allow runners to remain stationary while their track moves. Reversing fan direction allows a vacuum cleaner to spray cleansers. And through a portfolio of inventions, Amazon perfected having products come to people instead of people going to the products.

Working backward when inventing is a way to diverge from being simply better to different, especially important when the state-of-the-art is already good enough for most users. It can also be a way to invent from a sales perspective. Salespeople can translate the why behind the features comprising your solution—the ability to hover in the helicopter example—into benefits for prospects and ways to usefully differentiate from competitors.

So, you may reach your comparable helicopter inventions by thinking forward, coming up with the idea to rotate wings so the fuselage of your aircraft can remain stationary, defining the value of that idea afterward; or you may think backward and ask how to fly without moving forward and then come up with a rotary wing. Working backward from a useful endpoint gives you a second and often better way to create a saleable invention. At the very least, it gives you two ways to find your next big thing instead of just one.


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