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Searching for the Next Top Product

Tue, 03/09/2010 - 3:34am
by Aashish Mehta, National Instruments

Aashish Mehta National Instruments Engineers constantly come up with ideas, flooding the world with new products hoping that something will stick. The ultimate question for any engineer sounds like the title of a FOX reality show…“What is America’s Next Top Product”?

Ideas can come and go quickly. To harness the potential of innovation it’s essential to follow the basics to select ideas for further refinement to suit the market. Here are some basic steps for getting that idea and refining it.

1. Filling up the idea pool
There is always a tendency for engineers to find that perfect idea and in doing so, dismiss other mediocre ideas. It is important to make sure all viable ideas are written down with enough detail to prevent a “what was I thinking?” situation when looking back at the idea.

2. Passion will get you over the innovator’s wall
When looking back at ideas, look for something that you’d be most passionate about.. Passion is the driving force behind every idea, bringing it through the innovators wall (a version of the runners’ wall) of designing, prototyping and R&D. Like running a marathon, when transforming an idea to a product, you will hit points on your journey to the finish line where your mental side just gives up and you’ll find yourself hitting a wall. Passion for your idea will provide you with the mental strength to break through the wall and keep working hard on developing the product.

3. Don’t catch the Ideabola, score some Goals, and don’t get side-tracked
Engineers are very susceptible to the “Ideabola” (or idea ball) virus. This can be best described using a football analogy where you try to stretch for that last yard and instead fumble the ball away. Sometimes, it’s best to just tuck the ball in, go down and play the next play. Create sequential goals for your idea, designed to put the ball past the line and avoid getting side tracked.

4. Finding that perfection (the next top product?)
Aiming for perfection initially can easily hold you up. It is important to realize that all ideas will need work and adaptation to suit the market. Developing the next top product requires multiple revisions, and by all means the initial idea will most likely not be anywhere near perfect. It is essential to let people around you help develop the idea further. Throw your idea out there, pass it around with your family and friends, and get their input to help you develop the next top product.

5. When should you be satisfied and move ahead to develop the product?
There’s always a tendency for engineers to get carried away with the idea. It is essential to go back to the original goals and ask yourself if the idea hits the original goals in the most basic point of view.
• If it does, get started by creating a prototype and a concept
• If not, go back to the drawing board and get some more idea development flowing

Bringing an idea to reality will require constant testing quickly and cheaply. With the current pace at which products are being developed, it is important to keep up and maintain quality at the same time.

The next question will be how can I get started with developing a prototype and get upfront feedback?
A great resource to get any engineer in the right track to prototyping success is the Eight Rules for Prototyping.

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