Sometimes the Stuff of Genius has no Practical Application

BY Marshall Brain / POSTED April 19, 2011
Hammerbrook - City can this really be true?
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Imagine that you are an inventor. You have been working for six months on your latest, greatest creation. You run to your spouse and shout, “Honey, I’ve done it! Come watch!” And your spouse sees this demonstration:

It is amazing and cool. Also mysterious – how can the thing pick up mayonnaise like it is a plastic solid, and put it back, when it is not a solid at all?

But then spouse asks a question, “when am I going to use it? I mean, how often do you have a condiment spill that needs to be cleaned up?”

This, in many cases, is when a second level of genius is required. Someone has to figure out how to make the cool invention truly useful to someone. In other words, someone has to find the market. The guy who invented Silly Putty – James Wright – faced this problem, and solved it by focusing on the play aspects: “In 1949, the material was sold under the trade name of Silly Putty®, selling faster than any other toy in history with over $6 million in sales for the year”. Perhaps someone will be able to do the same with the SWITL in a plastic factory or a food processing plant.


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