The Heart of Invention

November 22, 2014



by Daniel Winston

Manny Winston was my father.

Over a forty‐year inventing career as owner of Winston Gray, Inc., he moved
hundreds of ideas from heart and brain to market. From ‘Feeley Meeleyy’ the year I
was born, to ‘What's in Ned’s Head’ in 2003, to new tank armor technology in the 80s, to many of the cereal box premiums of the 80s and 90s, and a long list of other amazing stuff, my father filled his decades with an Olympian level of creative output that I am still trying to grasp.

With a dad like mine, you learn a few things about inventing without even knowing
you learned them. In getting ready to come to Chitag, I thought it would be a great
thing to try to take a lifetime of watching a creative genius at work and distill out
some of the salient features of that genius in the hope that we all might be able to
take a bit of that magic home. Even though he was my dad, I cannot truly fathom
how he did what he did, but I hope what follows will be a useful portrait written, by
a grateful son.

1. Be Fearless.
Most of us operate in a narrow envelope of reflexive notions of personal identity,
competence, loyalty to old history, loyalty to other's perceptions and expectations of
us, and a sense of almost fatalistic determinism that what was is what will be and
that who we 'are' is all we can be. These notions tend to box our thinking into a zone
of safe mediocrity in which we venture only that which we feel will be well
received. In and of itself, that makes a fair bit of commercial sense ‐ but it doesn't
build a disruptively better mousetrap.

My father never finished high school but that didn't stop him from becoming a
world‐class thinker and innovator in such radically different fields as the toy
business, geopolitical and defense analysis, neurotteratology, weapons design, and
just about anything else he put his mind to. Some would be comfortable chalking
this all up to some innate genius ‐ but to me it is clear that the observable genius
was largely a byproduct of his firm belief that there was nothing to be afraid of. He
was willing to try, fail, and be seen as a failure because he didn't consider others'
perception of his 'failure' as being worthy of his fear. He also wasn't afraid to be
something or someone that he wasn't officially qualified to be. I once watched him
converse with an Israeli professor of neurobiology who was having trouble with an
experiment in the area of neural development. My father, who at first knew nothing
about the subject, just kept asking questions until he felt he had enough of a handle
on the matter to make a difference. The next day, he provided a non‐technical, but
very detailed list of how to redesign the experiment, and that high school dropout
was listed as co‐author on the subsequently published paper. The root of his ability
to navigate totally foreign waters, charting new routes and revealing new
destinations along the way, was his ingrained willingness and willfulness to see
right past seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the beckoning possibilities on the
other side of 'impossible'.

2. Be playful.
Even though I am writing for a toy and game conference, I still believe that this trait
isn't fully understood or employed by many of us. My father wasn't 'playful' in the
traditional sense ‐ he actually hated playing games. But he did know how to release
the mental and emotional chains that keep so many minds from jumping forward
towards quantum‐leap innovation. Whether he was dealing with a tank's
vulnerability to missile fire, a design for a new toy, or a leaky roof, his eyes always
seemed to look the same way. It was like he was letting his brain roam free like a
child lost in a mode of imaginative play that sees around corners and conjures
solutions that may appear, at first, to make little sense in the “real world”, but which
can provide the disruptive breakthroughs that world so desires.

I don't know at what age children learn that it’s safe to keep their thinking inside
that darn box ‐ but it’s clear that it would behoove us inventors to allow “playful
mindedness” to guide us ‐ and them ‐ back out.

3. Be disrespectful.
Rules, conventions, PC thinking/speaking, etc., can all be useful tools for the
denizens of a society seeking to organize itself and remain organized across
generations. The other side of that coin can be the stifling of creative thought and
action. Dad shucked rules and convention because he was highly intolerant of
confinement. This didn't make him a great socialite, but he could talk with anyone,
think outside of every box, and always believed he could find a solution to every
problem and an innovation for every need.

After reading this, the obvious question would be: How do I discover and develop
these traits in my life? Despite my healthy disrespect for convention, White Papers
are restricted to one page ‐ so y'all will have to wait for next year for my strokes of
genius ‐ or invent your own!

To summarize: The heart of invention is the inventor’s heart, and the heart of the
inventor is pure Chutzpa!

(November 2014)

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