Although I am a happy French press user, I enjoyed reading an article about Alan Adler and the AeroPress that showed up recently on Hacker News. In particular, I love Adler’s advice to inventors:
- Learn all you can about the science behind your invention.
- Scrupulously study the existing state of your idea by looking at current products and patents.
- Be willing to try things even if you aren’t too confident they’ll work. Sometimes you’ll get lucky.
- Try to be objective about the value of your invention. People get carried away with the thrill of inventing and waste good money pursuing something that doesn’t work any better than what’s already out there.
- You don’t need a patent in order to sell an invention. A patent is not a business license; it’s a permission to be the sole maker of product (even this is limited to 20 years).
Now notice that (disregarding the last suggestion) we can simply replace “invention” with “research project” and Adler’s suggestions become a great set of principles for doing research. I think #4 is particularly important: lacking the feedback that people in the private sector get from product sales (or not), us academics are particularly susceptible to falling in love with pretty ideas that don’t improve anything.