Mothers of Invention: Finding Inspiration in Brilliant, Creative Women


Solomon, who is credited with being the wisest man ever, wrote this in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes:

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

That may be poetically true, but it’s patently false – and I’m using the word “patent” here in the literal sense of issuing patents. New ones are being granted every day.

February is National Women Inventor’s Month and I think it highlights a subject that deserves a lot more attention, for the benefit of women but even more for the benefit of society. We live in a time when ideas are the most precious commodity. When we encourage more people to have ideas, voice them, and pursue them, the more opportunities we create for everyone.

Let me highlight a few women inventors for inspiration and share a couple of important tips with you.

I don’t know the name of the first woman inventor I would like to discuss, but she (and it was probably a collective effort between many women) provided the basis from which civilization has been able to advance.

Our debt to the cavewomenideas light bulb note book public domain

Let me suggest to you that women invented agriculture. How can I make this bold assertion? you ask. All the books on the development of societies from the primitive to the advanced say that men were hunters and women were gatherers. I believe cave paintings and other clues bear this out. If that is true, then who is most likely to have invented agriculture?

I think this is interesting because it is a wonderful example of finding a solution for an everyday problem. Being able to grow all your berries in one location is far better than having to run around the hillside harvesting random patches of berries. Women, keep your eyes open for ways to do everyday tasks better and more efficiently.

Beauty and brains

One of the best reads of recent years is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes’ “Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.” Here is proof that a beautiful woman can be taken seriously for much more than her good looks.

Rhodes chronicles Lamarr’s childhood in Austria and her immigration to the United States from a variety of angles. He explains her relationships, both personal and professional, and shows how she came to value science, invention and the world of ideas. She invented technology to help the war effort that is used in cell phones today.

Here’s a link to an NPR story on the book, but I urge you to grab the book and read it yourself.

She does it all

An article in Forbes recently inspired me. It’s about – and written by – Lisa Seacat DeLuca, a self-described nerd, mother of twins, and the most prolific female inventor at IBM. Currently she has more than 150 patents to her name that deal with technologies including mobile, data and the cloud.

In a recent TED@IBM talk she said, “The speed of invention in the future will be as fast as we can dream up ideas. We’ll be able to use each other’s innovations to test drive ideas and find inspiration to keep solving everyday problems.”

Wow! She talked about solving everyday problems, exactly what the women who invented agriculture did. In that sense, I suppose Solomon was right when he said there is nothing new under the sun!

Go have some ideas

I hope these small vignettes have inspired you, whether you’re a woman or a man, so now let me share a tip in the form of a daily exercise. In his book, “Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream,” James Altucher offers a lot of life and career advice. He urges people to write down 10 ideas a day. Some will be good, many will be bad. The point is to make it a habit.

He contends, and I agree, that the key to formulating good ideas is to exercise ourselves mentally just as we would our muscles. At first it will be difficult, but it will get easier. You will start to notice those little life annoyances, realize there might be a better way, and come up with ideas of your own.

So what are you doing still here? Go out and invent something.

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