Toy With It

How To Think Of Ideas

"Ideas come to me all the time, just from where I am [in my life] or what's happened to me in the past," shares Schwarz. For instance, the Monster In My Closet toy, a "friendly" monster, was a result of Schwarz's childhood fear of monsters. And the idea for the Gallery Gang, a group of soft characters based on different artists, came about when Schwarz was walking through a museum one day.

The point is to look for ideas wherever and whenever you can. Schwarz, who periodically conducts inventing talks at elementary schools, likes to tell kids "to look at objects they see every day and [see] how they could be improved." And that's essentially your task as an inventor. Schwarz offers these additional tips:

1. Believe in your ideas. Wait until you get an idea you really believe in before starting out-then you can enjoy everything you're doing with it.

2. Write down every idea you get. Sometimes a so-so idea you get today will spark a better one later on.

3. Don't get too much advice. Nobody liked Schwarz's idea for Gus Gutz, but he went ahead and introduced it anyway, and the toy was a big success. Getting too much input from others results in a product that nobody wants.

4. Know your customers. Kids have always found Schwarz's toys to be fun and fresh, just like he thought they would. You're in trouble if you and your customers aren't on the same wavelength.

5. Have an absolute vision of what your product should be, and don't lose it. Stick to your guns.

6. Don't count on people to see your vision. They won't understand it until they see people using the product. If you're going to show a product, show it actually being used by a real person in your target market.

One other rule Schwarz certainly lives by is putting his customers first. The Rumpus Web site has games, movies, cartoons and lots of activities for kids. Fun is Schwarz's top priority, even before making money. That could be why he's also attracted a cult following of college kids who love the feel of his furry animals.

Schwarz's inventing process is similar to that of many other inventors. They all start with a basic philosophy about their inventions-like make it fun, make it mechanically simple or make sure it meets a need-and they follow through with that philosophy by constantly searching for ideas. Inventing doesn't have to be about creating something new; in fact, I've found that the most prolific inventors get ideas by looking at something they already know in a different way.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Toy With It.

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