Do I Cut the Red Wire or the Blue Wire?


Knowing Which Way to Go Next with Your Invention or Business

You’ve probably watched this scene a thousand times on TV and at the Movies. They’ve found the bad guy’s “device”, the clock is ticking, and now all they have to do is disarm it. They open some panel, and there they are: the red and the blue wires. Of course, they also just so happen to conveniently have a pair of wire cutters, but now the tension rises as they are posed with the question everyone in the audience already knows. “Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire?” One of these wires, if cut, will spell disaster. The other will save the day. But how to know which is the right one?

In a blockbuster movie, the scenario usually always plays out the same way. The hero will have several tense moments, followed by almost cutting the wrong wire and then at the last second, just before all is lost, cuts the right wire. This is usually followed by a happy, emotional scene and the rolling of the credits.

So much for Hollywood.

In the world of Entre-Inventing, we are often faced with a “do I cut the red wire or the blue wire” dilemma. Do I have my invention/product manufactured and sell them myself or license it to someone? Do I sell direct to the end-user or through distributors? How sophisticated should I make my prototype? How much should I spend on patent protection? How much of the work should I do myself and how much should I hire to have done? The questions go on and on. And that countdown clock is ticking, too. The one that makes you worry that someone is going to scoop you and you’ll wake up some morning and see the product you thought of on TV (this has really happened to me). Another one, ticking loudly for many of us, is the very real countdown between the time we file a provisional patent and the 12 month deadline to file our non-provisional. While all this can seem almost as dramatic as the Hollywood scene described above, it’s a good bit different, especially when it’s real life, it’s you and it’s your money and time.

I hear a lot of these questions and see a lot of people faced with these same dilemmas here at the Inventors Council. And unlike the uncertainty of the red or blue wire, the answers are going to depend on a number of different factors such as your industry, your situation, your invention, and you. One of the best places to try and wrestle with these questions, I think, is our Workshop for Inventors & Entrepreneurs. The benefit of the Workshop (one of them, anyway) is that you don’t just talk with one person and get one person’s opinion, but you get a broad variety of information, viewpoints and expertise from a wide cross-section of people, professions and experience.

There are basically 2 ways to acquire the wisdom necessary to make the right decisions. You can learn from your own mistakes and failures – which by the way are not only inevitable, but important to allow yourself because they will free you to take risks and ultimately discover what will succeed. But the other, equally important and much less painful one is to spend time around successful inventors and entrepreneurs that have already made a lot of mistakes, listening and learning from them. I see a lot of that at Inventors Council Open Meetings. It’s a great way to allow you to stand on the shoulders of others and can give you a great advantage when there’s a fork in the road and it’s time to choose a path to move forward.

Malcolm Gladwell tells the story about a firefighter in a burning house who was able to make a snap judgment to get all his men out moments before the floor they were standing on collapsed, saving their lives. How was he able to know to make the right decision at such a critical time? Because he spent hours upon hours not only working as a firefighter, but listening to stories of the experiences from other firefighters.

When trying to find what the right thing to do is, I like to go back to an old proverb: “In a multitude of counselors there is safety”. However you can, go out and obtain not just the knowledge but an understanding of what you need to comfortably make the right decision. Prepare yourself so before that clock ticks down to zero, you can cut the right wire!