Underpants Gnomes & Winter: What Inventors Must Learn about “The Middle”

After reading this title, I am sure everyone is curious what Underpants Gnomes are, and what they have to do with inventing.  The Underpants Gnomes are from the 2nd season of South Park, a satirical, animated television series on Comedy Central that originally aired on December 16, 1998.  Anyone familiar with South Park may be wondering how in the world any of their shows from over a decade ago could be relevant to marketing an invention today.

The Underpants Gnomes teach a valuable, lighthearted lesson that works for inventing, starting a business, or accomplishing any difficult goal.  The Underpants Gnomes are tiny gnomes that come in the middle of the night to steal a character’s underpants while he sleeps, in a plot to make money.  When the boy and his friends wait up one night to find and confront the gnomes to find out why they are taking the underpants, the gnomes claim to be business experts, and are stealing the underpants to run their business.   The problem is… they only have phases 1 and 3 down.  When the boys asked how their business worked, the gnomes replied:

§         Phase 1: Collect Underpants

§         Phase 2: ?

§         Phase 3: Profit

It is that middle phase that they still need to figure out, and they don’t realize it.  They keep collecting underpants expecting profit.  This is like getting a patent and product made, but forgetting all about how you are going to sell it.

As an inventor working to develop my first project into a saleable item, I didn’t realize how long and hard “The Middle” was going to be.  “The Middle” is that time between the euphoric sensation of originally conjuring up your brilliant new idea, and the very end after you have achieved sales success in the marketplace.  The beginning and the end are the easy parts.  Those that figure out “The Middle” part are the ones that go on to great success.

Think about the seasons as you prepare yourself towards accomplishing your invention goals, or any challenging goal you set for yourself.  The cold, dark winter months that we are in now remind me of “The Middle.”  Imagine you had no idea about the earth’s seasons, and wanted me to teach you about them.  To get started, I show you a beautiful fall day with all of its rich, vibrant colors, and crisp evening air that smelled like a roaring camp fire.  Then I show you a sunny spring day with its bright flowers, emerald green grass, and birds chirping in the background.  You would probably find it hard to believe when I tell you that the only way to get to spring from fall is through winter – “The Middle.”   A time that is mostly dark and gray with howling winds, and stinging frostbite cold weather where lakes freeze completely over, and the trees lose all of their leaves.

In many ways, marketing a successful invention is like winter or “The Middle.”  In order to get to the other side, everyone has to endure hardships and pain along the way.  Unfortunately, many fail and give up right before the winter season is ending, and never make it to the other side.  Even more, never even get started at all.  Like you always hear – if it were easy everyone would do it.

The best advice I can offer is to learn from the Underpants Gnomes, and plan and expect for “The Middle.”  Doing so will help you bear the cold winter months, and will keep you warm as you wait for spring.  I can’t tell you what will happen, how long it will take, or if you will definitely make it to the other side, but I can definitely tell you what will happen if you never get started at all.  I wish you the best of luck on your journey, and hope you stay warm the rest of this winter.


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