This course will not run in 2021. The next session is planned for summer 2022

Course is closed
Lead Instructor(s)
TBD 2022
Live Virtual
Course Length
5 Half-Days
Course Fee
Course is closed

Master the frameworks you need to cultivate and respond to emerging opportunities for invention in this dynamic five-day course. Alongside a group of accomplished peers, you’ll explore proven methodologies for idea generation, with emphasis on the engineering sphere, and learn how to recognize and frame inventive opportunities. You’ll additionally enhance your ability to identify potential roadblocks, analyze the strategic impact, and review and critique design concepts. 

Course Overview

This course may be taken individually or as a core course for the Professional Certificate Program in Innovation & Technology.

How do you recognize a need for invention and nurture that into innovation within your organization? How can you develop your capacity to invent? Opportunities to invent are all around us, but it’s easy to miss them and hard to seize or capitalize on them. In this course, you will learn how to recognize, frame, and respond to these invention opportunities, as well as to create a healthy culture of invention.

The goal of this course is to expose participants to the culture and methodology of the inventor, starting from the conviction that everyone can improve their ability to invent. 

We will focus on invention in an engineering context, although additional lessons will be drawn from other fields including science, the visual arts, architecture, and more. The class is taught by one of the founders of the field of 3D Printing, whose inventions in that field and in photovoltaics have led to seven start-up companies and three publicly-held companies.

We will also discuss invention in the context of its role in competitive strategy and as a distinct and recurring aspect of innovation. Essential elements of Intellectual Property (IP) law and patent writing will be taught and practiced. The relative roles of patents and trade secrets will be reviewed, especially in view of current challenges in protecting IP.

Human beings are born inventors, with a deep urge to explore. Formal education equips us with the ability to analyze. But invention requires both synthesis and analysis as well as an “artful” interplay between them. Invention therefore, must be relearned. Our goal is to have you feel the thrill of inventing and take it back to your workplace, feeling comfortable giving yourself a “license to invent.”

Participant Takeaways

  • Understand the role of invention in innovation
  • Internalize the distinct modes of thought embodied by synthesis and analysis and practice transitioning from one to the other and back again
  • Gain facility with methodologies for idea generation and confidence in idea generation
  • Gain facility with methodologies for analysis and learn when and where to apply analysis
  • Develop the ability to think critically about Intellectual Property within a framework of competitive strategy
  • Feel the thrill of inventing and be able to bring it back to the workplace

Who Should Attend

This program is designed primarily for those working in industry, specifically mechanical, electrical, and materials science engineering. Executives, CTOs, and project managers in product design, Research & Development, and manufacturing will benefit from attending this course. Anyone working on projects related to the Internet of Things are particularly well-suited to this course, as IoT is the intersection of the mechanical, electrical, materials, and information arenas.

Start-ups live and thrive based on the impact of their inventions and those actively working in start-ups can make immediate use of the course, including in the classroom itself. (Prof. Sachs has participated in seven start-ups based on his inventions including as co-founder and CTO). Venture Capitalists and investors in Sci-Tech might gain insights into evaluating inventors and inventions. Policymakers looking for ways to frame R&D projects will also benefit.

As individual contributors, you will be able to make more inventive contributions to your projects because you will learn how to recognize an inventive opportunity and frame it. Additionally, you will understand how to initiate phases of exploration and synthesis, understand how to look for weaknesses by initiating phases of analysis, and understand when to move back and forth between synthesis and analysis. You will gain an understanding of how to analyze your individual contributions for strategic impact and be more active participants in design reviews and critiques.

As managers, you will be able to foster a work environment that promotes inventive contribution by helping to frame the strategic needs which prompt seeking an inventive opportunity. You will be able to help people to overcome risk aversion and social pressure in ideation and invention, helping to direct the artful interplay of synthesis and analysis. You will know when to switch modes and how to integrate observations and results from the two modes, helping to set the right tone for design reviews and critiques. You will learn to set a tone where the outcome is what is valued by being able to apply objective criteria to evaluation and allowing for some level of depersonalization in the decision-making process.


A laptop or tablet with Word and Excel (or equivalents) is required for this course.

Program Outline

There are eight tracks in the course. Many of these topics will be revisited at several stages during the week.

Establishing context: The course will look at the role of invention in innovation, where innovation is understood to connote the complete and interacting sequence required to get a product to market. The touchstone of the course is to recognize that invention requires both synthesis and analysis as well as skill in moving back and forth between the synthetic and analytic frames of mind. The course aims to help participants understand the widely different roles and viewpoints of synthesis and analysis from the vantage point of different creative professions.  We will briefly examine the cognitive psychology and brain science that supports the existence of these two different modes of human thought, and their complimentary roles in making us creative, yet keeping us grounded.

Examples, deriving lessons: Participants will look at a  range of inventions by reviewing patents and reading accounts of inventive undertakings, in the words of inventors and through the eyes of third parties. The goal is to get a sense of the motivations and approaches of inventors and the diversity of circumstances surrounding and motivating invention.

Identifying inventive opportunity: As in any engineering endeavor, it is important to understand the needs that must be satisfied and the constraints on the solution. Participants will also learn how to identify and articulate opportunities for invention. For example, we will use the language of "contradiction" as articulated in TRIZ (see below), to formulate a problem in a way that is conducive to invention.

Synthesis: A main focus of the course will be on synthesis, especially on idea generation. We will study and practice formal methods including: brainstorming, morphological analysis, and TRIZ (also known as Invention Theory). Attention to inventive culture, both when inventing as an individual and especially inventing in groups will be reviewed. The opportunity to loosen up with Invention Improv, where small teams respond in the moment to ad hoc and sometimes silly inventive challenges.

Analysis: During invention, analysis plays the crucial role of keeping synthesis from becoming fantasy. First, participants will recall and re-build their abilities to do order of magnitude estimation and first-order analysis, in order to be able to "sanity check" ideas. Participants will examine proposed solutions from the point of view of whether they are "coupled" or not, using the language and concepts of Axiomatic Design to appraise concepts and direct improvements. We will enumerate technology rules having to do with hierarchical design, platform definition, and subsystem definition. The role of analysis in design reviews will be examined, as well as  some of the personal dynamics that arise in these settings.

Artful interplay: The language of the interplay between synthesis and analysis is the model, or in fact, many types of models. The art lies in knowing when to switch between the two modes of thought. We will examine how to identify what is to be learned at each stage in the iterative looping between synthesis and analysis and how this helps to shape successive steps in a project plan.

Intellectual Property: The history and conceptual underpinning of patents will be reviewed (it's an Enlightenment concept). The structure of a patent document will be examined with the focus on being able to read and interpret the essence of a patent: patent claims. Participants will also learn to draft patent claims and will practice with the inventions made in class. The course will look at the changing role of patents in the light of state-sponsored IP theft and discuss the trade-off between patents and trade-secrets.

Competitive strategy—projecting trends: It is essential to compare an idea against the competition—taking into account where the competition might be by the time your project goes to market. Through case studies, the class will examine trends in technology, both as a means to project the progress of the competition, and as a means to project the role of an invention in the midst of creation.


Links & Resources

How an MIT Group Invented 3D Printing (audio story) - WBUR 90.0, January 13, 2017


The type of content you will learn in this course, whether it's a foundational understanding of the subject, the hottest trends and developments in the field, or suggested practical applications for industry.

Fundamentals: Core concepts, understandings, and tools - 60%|Latest Developments: Recent advances and future trends - 10%|Industry Applications: Linking theory and real-world - 30%
Delivery Methods

How the course is taught, from traditional classroom lectures and riveting discussions to group projects to engaging and interactive simulations and exercises with your peers.

Lecture: Delivery of material in a lecture format - 70%|Discussion or Groupwork: Participatory learning - 30%

What level of expertise and familiarity the material in this course assumes you have. The greater the amount of introductory material taught in the course, the less you will need to be familiar with when you attend.

Introductory: Appropriate for a general audience - 40%|Specialized: Assumes experience in practice area or field - 60%