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Product Creation: Old is New Again
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Although it's exciting to create new, inventive, imaginative products, most successful (and much easier) product creation/development is simply a matter of improving on already existing products or reintroducing old products with a new twist. You don't have to be a genius who can invent something from scratch. Just remember, the inventors of the first automobiles essentially put a motor in place of the horses on a horse-drawn carriage.

The standard advice of product creation/development applies: work on something you already know.

If it's already something you know how to make or do, you have a head start. But, it doesn't have to be something you can already make or do, it can be something you already use and would like to see improved.

Your improvements can also be to a product you don't currently use, but would like to use if only it had certain features you'd prefer or something many people say they'd like to have.


Have you ever seen the SCAMPER list for creative thinking? The list was developed by an advertising executive, Alex Osborn -- who's also known for brainstorming techniques -- as a set of questions for triggering questions. It was later recompiled as a mnemonic device by an educator/writer, Bob Eberle as part of activities for developing imagination in children. It applies wonderfully well to the development of adults as well.

When considering improvements and innovations, ask yourself what and how you can:

Modify (or Magnify or Minimize)
Put to Other Uses
Reverse (Or Rearrange)

From such thinking came the exercise of "A hundred uses for a brick." I suspect that exercise or something like it stimulated such products as the humorous book "101 Uses for a Dead Cat," and booklets on the many possible uses of baking soda.

Here are some successful products that illustrate the value of improvements and innovations.

1. Smart phones are perfect examples of combining. A telephone and a mini-computer in your pocket and wireless. Wow!

2. "Green" crossover vehicles. Environmental awareness, and a car with elements of an SUV and sedan or station wagon.

3. Sewing machine feet. O.K., maybe not so exciting as smart phones and crossover vehicles, but quite useful to commercial operations in fashion and decorating. I was looking for a quilting foot for my brother. He makes slipcovers, bedspreads, quilts, pillows, etc. (It's been the "family business" for three generations, starting with my grandmother.) While searching, I ran across a small business that offered sewing machine feet that could simplify an amazing number of functions. Like applying beadwork or ribbons easily and quickly. Yes, quilting, too. Appliqué. Sequins. Piping. The two women who run the operation designed them and had them made for them and they are apparently selling enough to make a good living if their longevity online is an indicator of their success. (If you're curious, visit

The foregoing has focused on improvements and innovations. But I also mentioned earlier the reintroduction of old products. There are a lot of products that we see go in and out of use over varying cycles. The easiest example of this is in women's fashions. I remember my mother-in-law talking about it years ago.

She would look at clothing and accessories that seemed to be the newest rage and say, "Oh yes, we had that when I was a girl." (Or a young mother, or turning middle-aged.) And when I researched it, it turned out that she was right. It was just something old becoming new again.

I've also seen the phenomenon in the arts. Neoimpressionism. Art nouveau de nouveau. I've seen it in home furnishings and décor. Architecture. Herbal healing. Homeopathy. Eastern and various alternative medicines. Economic philosophies. Any of this sounding familiar? If you observe, you'll find it nearly every field. Is there anything you can bring back?



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