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Welcome To Inventionland

If invention is the stuff of dreams, George Davison has built a work environment designed to make dreams come true.  I first encountered the effervescent founder and CEO of Davison International a few months ago during a telephone interview for a story about managing innovation.  During the interview he told me about his company’s new product development facility called Inventionland, a place where product designers work in storybook workplaces that are the products of their own childhood imaginations.  I could not restrain myself from dropping a not-very-subtle hint about visiting the place to which Mr. Davison graciously obliged.  

My tour of Inventionland began a few months later in the lobby of an unremarkable building in RIDC Park in O'Hara Township.  After a few moments wait a smiling George Davison flew into the room, hand extended, coattails trailing in a self-created breeze.  "Sorry for the delay, Tom, I've been in meetings all morning," he said before embarking on a meteorically exuberant monologue about the excitement of inventing things.  After showing me articles about his company in Business Week, ID Magazine and Ripley's Believe It-Or-Not, we began our tour of the 110,000 square-foot facility.

Following close on my host's heels, I passed through a series of unsurprising cubicles occupied by office workers doing the usual desktop, keyboard, mouse and headset stuff, until we came to a presentation room filled with about two-hundred Davison International products in colorful retail boxes and blister packs that could easily have been in the toys, housewares, hardware, personal care or automotive sections of any retail store.

Using the display products for illustrations, George explained that Davison International serves three types of customer: 1) corporate clients for whom they work as inventors-for-hire; 2) consumer inventors, who bring their ideas to the company for development and; 3) the company itself which develops and markets its own products.

The key to the company’s success is the methodical systemization and documentation of every step in the development of every product, whether successful or not.  "We never have failures," Davison says.  "Only future successes."

Davison begins the invention process by analyzing market need, competitive pressures and manufacturing feasibility.  Once the product has made it through the initial evaluation stage, the company's inventors, designers and engineers put it through Davison’s proprietary development process, including ideational sketches engineering drawings, three-dimensional mock ups, and operational prototypes packaged for presentation to an industrial partner or a retail buyer. 

Davison summarized his system, which he calls Inventegration: "We have figured out how to reduce a $100,000 product innovation cost to $10,000."  As he spoke, unbeknownst to me, he pressed a button on the side of the bookcase we were standing before and said, "It can lead to another world."  With that the bookcase slid to the right, like in an Indiana Jones movie, to reveal the Disneyesque world that is Inventionland.  Inside was a fantasy village replete with a cottage made of quilts and pillow cushions for sewn products, a treehouse made of rough-sawn wood perched in a full-scale sculpted tree that serves as George’s personal think tank, a giant robot head made of stainless steel for electronic products, a racetrack with slot cars whirring around the perimeter for automotive products, and a cave behind a waterfall for outdoor products.   The fantasy edifices, which have names like Inventalot Castle, Brainpower Ballpark, Inventionland Motor Speedway and Creativity Cavern, line streets with names like Determination Drive, Electric Avenue and Eureka Blvd.  Ever a champion of efficiency, Davison has designed all the workspaces to serve double-duty as movie sets for product photography and infomercials.

Expounding upon the challenges of inspiring creative people to output out six to eight new products a day, Davison asked rhetorically,  "What if we brought those early childhood fantasies of tree-houses and pirate ships to the workplace...what would that do for creativity?”

Given Davison International’s ascent to the largest product development company in the United States and second largest prototype manufacturer in the world, the answer seems abundantly clear that he has created a workplace environment in which creative invention is nourished by the stuff of dreams.

This article first appeared in Tom Imerito’s TEQ column, Innovation Chronicles.

© Copyright 2007, Thomas P. Imerito / dba Science Communications

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