As inventors, we are often asking ourselves what problem a new product solves. How does it fit in to the life of an average human being? How will it make that person’s life easier? This mindset can be exhausting as we’re mired in the negative thought-cycle of asking “what is the problem?” But it can distract us from one of my most fun and enjoyable aspects of inventing: creating items for the sole enjoyment of the user!
Each February, we brave brisk New York City winters to travel to the Toy Fair at the Jacob Javits Center in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Regardless of the climate, we are always overcome with warmth as we walk the aisles and interact with toy industry professionals, whose sole intents are to find new products that will make people smile. Successful toys aren’t geared toward solving problems, nor are they created under the pretense that they are world-changing innovations (though some end up that way)!
Through conversations with large, toy-industry decision-makers, we have learned that some of the most successful toys or all time were originally intended for us as something practical, but that’s usage fell to the wayside when the amusement it created eventually overshadowed usefulness. Take POGS for example. POGS are small carboard disks, that are traded, collected and played with, that were a huge sensation in the 1990’s with children. These disks had cartoon characters, comic books heroes, and sports logos printed on them, and were even banned in some school districts for creating too much of a distraction for students. However, did you know that POGS were originally invented in Hawaii, and were initially created using the cardboard disk used to seal jars of milk? Some enterprising children created a game with these disks and the rest is history!
A more recent illustration of this phenomenon, is the success of the Fidget Spinner. A Fidget Spinner is a small handheld gadget that uses a weighted ball bearing to spin rapidly and smoothly in the user’s hand. While it was originally intended as an aid to help focus children who suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder, the toy became a smash hit, simply because of its intrinsic qualities. It’s fun!
While ideas can come from anywhere, it’s important not to lose sight of the notion that some of the most successful products of all time exist solely because they made someone smile. Next time your searching for your next big idea, don’t forget to have a little fun.