This Sunday I will turn 63 years old, and I’ve never felt better. On that day, I will fly to New York City to join other inventors for a panel at the City College of New York in partnership with the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador program that takes place on Monday. We’ve been invited to share our thoughts about how to make higher education more welcoming and inclusive for inventors. We need to help more people recognize themselves as inventors, and show them what’s possible. Join us for “Engineering Academic Environments to Foster Invention and Innovation.”
I truly love how I spend my days. Every day I work with inventors to help them solve problems and commercialize their inventions. I’m still excited when Monday morning rolls around.
But last year, something truly great happened that completely opened my eyes to all of the new exciting opportunities around me.
Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone, do something completely foreign to you, and work with people of different interests and backgrounds to fully reach your potential. That’s what happened to me, and these experiences have made me a better inventor.
When I found out I had been nominated to apply to the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador program, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at first. My family told me it would be a great experience and something I would treasure on my resume.
But I’ve been self-employed my entire career. I’ve never once thought about a resume. Not ever. In fact, I’ve only really been employed once, and that was in the late 80s. And they didn’t ask me for a resume.
I thought to myself, why start now? But I said yes and applied, not fully understanding where this journey would take me or how I would be affected. I became an AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador. AAAS stands for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The worlds’ largest general science membership society formed in 1848. In a nutshell their mission is to advance science, which advances society. And the Lemelson Foundation’s mission is to improve lives through invention by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors.
These two organizations came together to showcase the modern faces and voices of invention who are addressing grand challenges facing humanity and created the AAAS-Lemelson Ambassador Invention program.
I am one member of the 2018-2019 class. Our mission is to inspire the next generation of inventors. Right away, I knew that I would be out of my comfort zone. And I wasn’t quite sure why I had even been included in this very distinguished group.
We had our first orientation in Washington D.C. at the AAAS headquarters. I was nervous. After we went around and introduced ourselves, I felt a little confused. This was a highly educated group of scientists who were helping to change the world through invention. They had so many credentials, they barely fit on their business cards. Many were in corporate America working for companies such as IBM and Microsoft but others were leading the charge at major universities.
Sitting in the classroom that day, I reflected back on when I was in school. Mostly I listened quietly and observed situations unfold. I didn’t belong. School was never easy for me. At times I barely understood what people were talking about. Everything was completely foreign to me! My cohort engaged with the guest speakers as I sat in the corner to myself. I didn’t know how I was going to contribute… let alone why I was there. I felt like they had made a mistake.
One reason why we had gathered was to prepare for a 10-minute presentation. They had even brought in a speaking coach for all of us.
Once the topic of our presentations began, everyone else grew very quiet. They were nervous. Some inventors expressed their fears of public speaking.
To tell you the truth, I was surprised and a little relieved. It doesn’t matter what your background is or how highly educated you are or how much experience you have — everyone has some form of insecurity. And I know that extremely well. Even with all of the experience I’ve had over the last decade speaking publicly, I have to admit I was a little nervous too.
On my practice run I went four minutes over the allotted time of 10 minutes. I had to cut my presentation down by four minutes. I went back to the hotel to rest and called my wife. I told her I was nervous. She gave me the best advice she’s given me over the years: Always be yourself.
The night of our presentations, the auditorium was packed and there were cameras ready.
We were very lucky to have our experienced speaking coach. She helped all of us through our presentations with flying colors. In the reception area after our presentations one of the seven judges that interviewed me for the position said something I’ll never forget. “We made the right choice in choosing you!”
At that moment, I believed that I belonged.
We all belong and we all have a voice that deserves to be heard. And being together makes our individual voices much louder! I felt proud to be an inventor.
Working with such a diverse group of people forced me to learn more about their invention journeys and about my own. I finally understood why we were all there together.
We all wanted to help the next generation of inventors by sharing our stories. Although our stories were very different, they had something very much in common, which was an enthusiasm and dedication to helping others. That was clearly present. We were all doing so in a different way. And that’s what made this experience so remarkable to me. I’ll never forget it.
To become a great inventor, you need to bring together a very diverse group. People who have different opinions and come from different backgrounds. You need to be able to see things from a different perspective.
This experience opened my eyes to just how many inventors there are who are helping others with no financial return whatsoever.
This surprised me, because during my career as an entrepreneur, most people have a huge financial interest in the outcome of their startup/invention. This group of creative, motivated people was different. Financial gain was not a big motivator. This was about something much, much bigger: Giving back and helping others.
Whether you’re in academia or at a major corporation, manifesting a vision is filled with roadblocks and obstacles.
The same principles that I’ve learned as an independent inventor apply there too. There are always going to be challenges. You must find like-minded individuals who share a common goal and build a community together to work towards achieving your goals.
Invention and creativity are such magical things that have nothing (at times) to do with any financial reward.
This amazing group of inventors taught me many important lessons. We need to share our stories with the next generation. Invention and inventors sometimes sound like a very lofty goal for most people. But they shouldn’t be. We all need to be inventive.
We must shine the light on inventors, because they are superheroes. We must provide them with a path to share their world changing inventions.
I’m proud to say I will be an Invention Ambassador for the rest of my life. I’ve learned so much, including the following.
The value of saying yes to opportunities that present themselves even when you’re not quite sure where they’re going to lead. I have a tendency to be laser focused. Only when I raise my head up and look around do I become a better person.
How important it is that I continue sharing the process of licensing with everyone. With licensing, everyone has the opportunity to create and share their creation with others. Licensing is a way of leveling the playing field for inventors, regardless of where they live, their age, race, gender, access to resources, or level of education.
If you surround yourself with people that have different opinions and come different backgrounds and experiences, you will come up with better solutions.
Keep learning. We’re all students regardless of how old and how much experience we have.
Find your community. Entrepreneur-inventors face lots of obstacles. You need help on your journey; your people.
Obstacles are universal. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions and find others who have dealt with similar situations.
We all have special talents. And we can all contribute to society through being more inventive.
You can never give enough away. Do more to contribute to a greater cause.