Innovation & Design

Expert Advice for American Inventor


As the CEO of Big Idea Group, a company that cultivates large networks of inventors and evaluates inventions for major U.S. companies, I was eager to see American Inventor, the reality-TV show that premiered on Mar. 16 on ABC. Inspired by American Idol, the new show gives would-be inventors the chance to win a $1 million prize and a deal to make their product idea a reality.

There has been a lot of buzz in the inventor community about the show (both good and bad). But what goes on air is the only thing that matters, so I tried to keep an open mind and just watch. While it may be too soon to judge the series, here are some first impressions:

Where's the talent?

Yes, the inventor community, like any community, has its share of colorful personalities. Just think of the NFL. However, it seemed that the show went out of its way to showcase kooky ideas.

Good TV necessitates blending the genuine talent with the delusional, and it looked liked the producers were stretching to find decent concepts. Unfortunately, that imbalance could be self-fulfilling. Many of our best inventors are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Is the show about talent or humor? If it's the latter, they'll continue to stay at home.

These are the judges?

Good inventors offer more than just an idea, and top product evaluators need more than an accent and an attitude. Of the four judges, only one is qualified. It would be nice if all the judges had not only evaluated but helped develop and launch products in the real world.

Credibility is earned by reviewing thousands of concepts, developing hundreds of items, launching dozens of products -- all with your own investment at stake. People with that credibility exist. They just weren't on the panel.

Tone down the melodrama.

Way too many tears. The producers could have done a better job of showcasing the inventors' excitement and passion without relying so heavily on the "waterworks" clips.

I do, however, want to give the show a break. Building up the talent level and judging skill takes time. And the show directs a much-needed spotlight on innovation. Let's hope that several solid inventors with good ideas come out of the first year, and the show lives to see these refinements come to pass.


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