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July 20. 2014 6:35PM

Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Beware of naysayers


 

I wrote last week that inventors need intuition: Its number one function is to support an inventor’s ego-wearing battle against the world full of naysayers. To be told “No, that won’t work,” or “You are wasting your time,” is hurtful even told by just one person. Just think you are surrounded by many such naysayers, including your wife or colleagues or worse, your boss.

Trouble is that they are right more often than not. The feeling of admitting that you were wrong and face these triumphant naysayers with your tail tucked in is not only demeaning, but also so hurtful that you would stop inventing, period.

Naysayers are a god-given filter to kill useless ideas and inventions that waste your and other’s financial resources in one aspect, and simultaneously kill useful inventions before they become successfully completed. In some ways, it is a part of evolution that filters and nurtures successful species while killing those experimental species that just can’t survive.

However, we humans have intuition that doesn’t really exist in the world of evolution for animals and plants. I don’t think there is any animal or plant that insists on a belief based on their thinking or some esoteric will. What I would like to emphasize here is that intuition makes us humans very separate from other animals and plants all together. In fact “intuition” is the very essence of what makes us humans propel to excel and advance with this thing called civilization.

However, having intuition doesn’t necessarily make us succeed in any invention that you might think up, and while on the other hand curbing or suppressing your intuition might cause your downfall badly.

I have a brilliant and sad case to report: I heard this story from a MIT food-chemistry researcher back in 1959 while I attended the college. The factual details of this story may not be verifiable, now that this had occurred one century ago in the prewar Japan. However the crux of the story is very much alive today. It is a story of a failure in ignoring his intuition, which told the scholar otherwise.

Umetaro Suzuki (1874 — 1943) was a brilliant researcher in agricultural chemistry in Japan. He contributed significantly to the establishment and subsequent growth of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries in the early 20th century in Japan. After graduating from The Imperial University of Tokyo, he studied in Switzerland and Germany under the famed chemistry professor Emil Fischer. After returning to Tokyo University he concentrated his research effort in studying the disease beriberi, and found that the disease was slowed by rice bran. From the research he conducted he discovered the active ingredient, which he named “aberic acid.”

At that time the entire world was in competition to identify the chemical structure of this compound. Suzuki was one of the earliest scholars to lead this branch of science of vitamins, the growth out of his aberic acids.

A sad incident occurred and a mistake was made in identifying the vitamin B1 chemical structure, I was told by this MIT researcher. Professor Suzuki worked with assistants who were involved in identifying the chemical structure. Professor Suzuki smelled and felt that the vitamin contained a very minute quantity of sulfur as he thought he very faintly smelled it. He asked his assistants to verify the fact, and their answers were, upon thorough analysis, all negative. Thus he published his paper without pointing out a very insignificant but existing sulfur component. That, combined with a Polish chemist Kazimierz Funk correctly discovering the structure, made Professor Suzuki miss the coveted Nobel Prize even though he was the first discoverer of what we call today vitamin B1, an extremely significant scientific finding in the history of pharmaceutical research.

In the early 1900s, measurement techniques must have been relatively primitive, and precision quantative analysis might not have been possible. That made Dr. Suzuki gun shy in insisting many repeat measurements. At some point of repetition the measurement itself becomes meaningless.

The point I am making is this: Inventors, you must insist on your intuition. Sometimes you may look foolish against all the naysayers who act logical and speak quite well in explaining how wrong you are. Write down their objections carefully. In the notebook. By the way when you take a note of someone objecting, their objection often vaporizes quickly. People don’t like you taking notes when they themselves aren’t sure. This way you can separate good logical objections from frivolous objections based on jealousy or NIBM (Not Invented By Me).

Then analyze their statements carefully. If your intuition and belief still continues strong, then by all means proceed it your way. Again, like Nike ads — Just Do It! Otherwise how would you find out if you are right?

More on pet products

I spoke about the pet industry last week, which grows more than 6 percent year in and year out. The largest segment of the industry is, of course, pet food. Someday you (and your partner) may wish to consider getting into the pet food business. Unlike the food manufacturing business for human consumption, sanitary and other regulatory restrictions for pet food are quite a bit easier to pass through. You might also consider other endeavors such as accessories. However, be careful not to get into cost barrier issues competing against low-labor countries. My suggestion is to look into applying technology to solve problems surrounding pets. Technology makes the final price higher, and thus margins for you also.

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who’s improved our life. He is a businessman and inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, and is credited as the original inventor of the portable fax machine. He developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at sasano@gmail.com.



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