“I could have thought of that”
I have lived happily in the toy world for quite some time, and the thing that never ceases to amaze me is this; with so many professions, it is how difficult the something is that impresses your peers and colleagues, the dramatic descriptions, the most complicated analogies, the increasingly outrageous theories. In sharp contrast where the toy industry, and inventors in-particular are concerned, it is in the 'Wow, but it's so simple'; the ‘I could have thought of that’ that impresses.
The dream is to invent something simple and seemingly obvious, a ‘no brainer’ that has people kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.
Taking it back to basics:
The genius of invention is twofold; the inspiration for the something ‘new and not done before’ and the boiling down of a complicated process to its most simple element. If you are able to combine these two factors, then you may well be onto something. Add a compelling and repeatable play feature into the mix, and you are almost certainly onto something.
A point worth noting here is that ideally people need to ‘get it’ in under 10 seconds. If you need a complicated explanation to enable people to get your idea, then how will they have the patience to understand it when you are not there to sell it in? A commercial is not an instructional video, it shows the cool USP that you get in an instant!
Context is everything, but what context is best?
Context is also at play here (context is a funny old thing). When it comes to a specific concept being shown for a specific brand, of course context carries a great and important weight. I mean, reinventing the wheel is always a fun challenge, but it still has to carry the functional quality of what the purpose of the wheel actually does.
But breaking free of context also has its benefits. Often the most compelling toy invention involves taking something that already exists in the non- toy world and reimagining it. Transforming a familiar everyday object or mechanism into a brilliantly simple toy! This is of course more difficult than it sounds, as it takes a certain mindset to re-appropriate an idea, and ignore an existing context.
For example, Playdoh’s original function was to clean coal dust off the walls before re-wallpapering. And now, no household with young kids is without the fun and universally loved compound.
Polly Pocket was invented when the inventor’s daughter, Kate Wiggs, needed something to play with and, in a flash of genius, was given a powder compact and a mini doll. And so a brand was born.
Invention and inspiration is everywhere. It just takes a certain angle and a certain light to see it.
Douglas Adams puts this perfectly in 'Dirk Gentlys Holistic detective Agency:
"Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissed shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ... "You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see.
It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto non-existent blindingly obvious. The cry 'I could have thought of that' is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn't, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too.”