By Ann Makosinski
I have half an hour to write this article.
My name is Ann Makosinski, I'm 18 years old and I'm an inventor. Actually my official bio defines me as "an 18-year-old student, serial inventor and media darling doing numerous global appearances and keynote talks" - but I'm really just a regular teenage girl who likes to make things.
I recently gave a keynote speech at the EF Education First Global Student Leaders Summit, which was held in Iceland this year and explored the future of energy. Having to follow a surprise talk on Iceland's extreme energy efficiency by Iceland's President was quite intimidating, so you can imagine I sounded a bit nervous. Anyway, after my speech a lot of students came up to me and asked the same question that I hear every SINGLE time I give a talk.
The question goes something like this:
"I have all these really cool ideas, but I just don't know how to get started?! How do I start making an invention or project?"
Well, with all my eighteen years of sagely experience on this planet, I am here to answer this question once and for all. Why? Because I like helping people - and especially young people on the brink of prototyping a great idea.
That's actually how I came up with my first two big inventions. My first invention, the Hollow Flashlight, is a flashlight that runs off the heat of the human hand; and it was inspired by my friend in the Philippines who had no light to study at night.
The inspiration for my second invention, the eDrink, came from closer to home, and addressed a few problems my high school friends had: a) their phones always running out of battery, and b) their coffee taking too long to cool down. Now that I'm in first year university and don't have any friends, I'm not sure what my next invention will be. Just kidding, haha! While I don't know what the exact prototype for my next invention will look like, I know I like to solve problems for people less fortunate than me, or less equipped to come up with a solution for themselves. The elderly, the sick, the poor. That's where I like to focus my inventive energies, so that's likely where my next invention will focus.
Nevertheless, here are my five pieces of advice for would-be tinkerers on how to get your first prototype, or any project or goal you have in life, started and how to get it done. And consider checking out my YouTube channel to get more practical advice for would-be student inventors.
1. Look for problems around you or your friends for inspiration.
This is the easiest way to find a potential project to work on. Too often, aspiring makers/inventors take on huge problems that they want to solve, like "world hunger" or "clean water." While you should keep the big picture and main goal in mind, the invention process will be much simpler if you start by focusing on a smaller problem related to the "big" problem. For me, I knew I wanted to help provide light to my friend in the Philippines, and in turn, I could potentially help millions of people around the world who didn't have any electricity or light either.
2. Have someone who will keep you on track and guide you.
This is more important than you think. You need a mentor, a guru, someone to guide you and to learn from. The relationship you have with this person is very important, and the lessons they convey will be integrated into your life forever. Too often, young people nowadays dismiss teachers or professors, saying, "oh, they're only teaching such and such subject because they failed to do it in real life." While it may be true that SOME people will be better teachers of a subject then actually making it their real life career, it is important to respect the knowledge they have acquired over the years and to make use of it. You cannot do it alone. PERIOD.
3. Use what you have; you DON'T need a fancy mad scientist lab to make something.
While any maker's dream is to have the coolest tech lab ever, when you first start off, it probably won't be as glamorous. However, that does not mean you won't be able to make things. A good craftsman does not blame her tools. You can still make the most magnificent inventions with the simplest tools. You can even get great used stuff off Craigslist or at a garage sale. For me, my essentials were wire cutters, a soldering iron, and a circuit board. Sometimes the best inventions come from improvising with a variety of unconventional parts, because the more advanced or even common tools were not available. Check out Summit Speaker William Kamkwamba's story to learn how he took this approach to build a windmill in his small Malawian village.
4. You have MORE opportunity and TIME to create when you DISCONNECT.
Put away your phone and tablet. Close your computer, but keep it nearby for quick "Googles" of definitions or questions you have. Reading books on the subject at hand, and then applying what you've read to real life is one of the best ways to learn. Also, nothing beats sitting down in front of your bench and trying to figure out how individual parts work. I personally believe (ironically so) that to create more advanced technology, you sometimes need to completely disconnect from modern machinery to do so. Technology creates too many distractions.
5. Don't do it for the glory. Do it because you're actually 100 percent passionate and interested in the topic.
I'd like to end on this note. I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of "aspiring entrepreneurs" the past couple of years, and I've learned a few things. I certainly do not like calling myself an entrepreneur, because I simply don't have a company yet, and I am not that interested in the technicalities of maintaining a business. Furthermore, the term "entrepreneur" is thrown around so much by young people nowadays that any loser could be an "entrepreneur."
Social media has bestowed on the world a much more personal view into the lives of others - and interest naturally gravitates towards the flashiest lifestyles, which in turn influences young people to dream big. As a result, I think some young people are into "innovation" and being an "entrepreneur" for the wrong reasons.
If you are trying to invent something because you want to make billions of dollars and coast on your success, you're doing it wrong.
You pursue something because you are INTERESTED and PASSIONATE to LEARN about it. Learn as much as you can while you are young, and when you feel prepared and have the support systems and knowledge you need, then you can start making, founding, and being an "entrepreneur."
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and EF Educational Tours about the recent EF Global Student Leaders Summit, which explored the future of energy from Iceland. The Summit Series combines educational travel with a two-day leadership conference, and asks students to tackle global challenges in places where those challenges are notably present or well-addressed. To view all of the posts in the series, visit here.