How many times have you seen a product and said to yourself “why didn’t I think of that?” Even more frustrating is having an idea that someone else brings to reality later on. You can tell all your friends that you thought of it first, but of course no one will believe you.
I was born in 1963, so, in the early 70s when I was 8 or 9 years old the airwaves were filled with ads for things like Ron Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman, Veg-O-Matic and Mr. Microphone. Here was a guy who seemed a lot like your Dad or your next door neighbor, inventing things and making millions hawking them on TV.
I can remember three things that I thought of around that time that decades later came to be. So why didn’t I cash in on them? I blame my family. Don’t get me wrong, my family is great. We all like each other and get by with only the slightest hint of dysfunction. But as the youngest child, I was rarely taken seriously.
My parents were very practical people – almost to a fault. Rather than encouraging creativity or “thinking outside the box” they were proponents of hard work and “being realistic.” My sister is nine years older than me and had gotten over the novelty of having a baby sister by the time she became a teenager. The poor thing was our babysitter by default when Mom and Dad would go out, so I can’t blame her for ignoring me and my brother most of the time. My brother, 5 years older than me, did what big brothers do to little sisters: torment and tease.
When he was not giving me Indian burns (I wonder what the current, politically correct name for those are?) or grabbing my skinny little wrists and slapping me in the face with my own hands, while saying “Why’re ya hittin’ yourself? Why’re ya hittin’ yourself?” he was ridiculing me. When you’re the big brother, it’s just what you do. My attempts at impressing these people with my genius was doomed from the start. No matter how brilliant an idea of mine might be, my Mom & Dad would smile and say, “that’s nice” – never entertaining the thought that it could actually happen; my sister would ignore me; my brother would make fun of me.
Back to my innovations. While helping my mom bake cookies, I had an idea for a set of square measuring cups. You could put your stick of butter in them and just slice it off at the top. Like an Orange Push-Up, (remember those?) you’d push the butter out of the cup from the bottom.
“Well” mom said “the stick of butter has measurements marked right on the paper, so I don’t think that’s something anyone would ever really need.” My mom obviously hadn’t been paying attention to the Popeil commercials and did not have a grasp for modern marketing. Didn’t she realize how many millions of dollars are spent on crap that we don’t really need?
Okay. Strike one. She had a point. But, I did find this on Amazon.
Although it’s different than the design I had envisioned, someone obviously thought the concept was pretty good.
My next idea was more of a victim of my own laziness than a failure to impress. I took an old blanket out into the backyard with the plan of slathering myself in baby oil and working on my tan. (It was the 70s – Sunscreen? What’s that?) Anyway, the grass was a bit wet and soon, so was I, as it soaked through the fabric. I had the idea of sewing a vinyl tablecloth and a blanket together. With the vinyl side down, the moisture wouldn’t soak through. Having no sewing skills and knowing my uber-practical Mom would forbid me from “ruining” both a “perfectly good” blanket and tablecloth, I just never did anything about it. Pure laziness. There went my second chance at fame and fortune. Imagine my dismay when years later I saw my idea stolen by someone. Probably someone exactly like me (except with ambition and follow through skills.) The nerve!
Finally, my most notable near-miss occurred when I came up with the concept of one of the earliest versions of the modern day cellphone – the car phone. We were on a long car ride on a busy highway and my Dad was cussing out another driver. I said “Hey, I know! All cars should have phones in them. You could call people by dialing their license plate numbers. That way you could call that guy and tell him he’s a jackass, Dad!”
My parents chuckled, but not because I was such a charming, precocious child with a brilliant idea. They were probably pondering the potentially disastrous effects of being able to openly voice their road rage. My sister ignored me and continued to read her book. My brother laughed at me, rolled his eyes and said something brotherly like… “Yeah. Sure. That’ll happen! You’re even dumber than you look!”
I fumed silently from my place in the back seat of the station wagon (being the littlest, I had to sit with my feet on the hump of course) and daydreamed of a way you could buy individual songs instead of buying entire record albums.