Coming up with a great invention idea takes much more than observation — it takes determination, grit and creativity. Long before drawing up your innovation through a mock up, or even creating a functional prototype, an inventor needs to consider a product’s materials, manufacturing methods, functionality and aesthetic. This kind of design work and decision making needs a strong idea foundation, as it establishes a product’s credibility among future buyers, investors and/or manufacturers. So how can inventors start this process?

Developing a novel, and creative, idea is the first step in the innovation process — but not every idea will have market potential or be worthy of your time. There is no step-by-step guide to coming up with great ideas, but there are certainly ways for inventors to get their minds thinking creatively, providing more opportunities for that ah-ha moment to strike.

Often times, it’s not about what a person is thinking about, it’s more about how a person is thinking about something. Steve Jobs once — and now famously — said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” Listed below are a few ways inventors can foster an innovative mindset:

Concentrate: Inventors should identify the area in which they would like to generate new ideas — whether it’s a certain medical practice or a type of new technology. Doing so will help a person focus and prioritize a specific area of thinking pre-idea.

Explore: After an inventor selects where they will focus their attention, it’s time to create opportunities to explore said area. To do so, go out and actively observe a specific field, looking for anything out-of-place or underperforming (or, conversely, products or services that are exceeding expectations).

Interpret: Focus on the product successes in your are of concentration, and pay careful attention to why people purchase or use certain products. Gathering this kind of information will inform your idea’s design and functionality.

row of light bulbsDocument: Thinking is great — but without action or deadlines, ideas will likely never come to fruition. To keep yourself on track, establish an idea quota each day or week. This motivates an inventor to write down ideas, both good and bad, as a form of brainstorming.

Pursue: After a few weeks of generating ideas, you’ll likely have a notebook full of them. Now it’s time to pick out the best ones and start analyzing them, all while forcibly eliminating the rest. By being discerning in this phase, you’ll probably have some great ideas remaining — ones that you would be proud to pursue.

Did that ah-ha moment happen? If so, start sketching out your product idea with detailed notes and labels (these notes may also help you relay key features to future designers). Perhaps you feel comfortable creating a mockup that could help you to make a small-scale version of your invention before beginning any full-scale project scoping. In any case, a strong idea will serve as the foundation for your future invention.