Problem-Solving 101 from an Inventor

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington and Mark Publicover

Is there a problem that you feel needs a solution? You can be the one to discover the answer, come up with an invention to meet the need, and make a difference.

Mark Publicover did just this. He founded JumpSport, a company which makes trampoline enclosures and trampolines so that people can be safe while having fun jumping. His product has made a difference. It has significantly cut down trampoline injuries and increased safety. JumpSport has become a house-hold name in the trampoline industry.

During our interview, Mark's experience revealed helpful insights on effective problem solving.

Start with a clear, strong, pure motive:
I felt like I wanted to put my arms around these kids (trampoliners) and protect them and provide a place where they could play and enjoy themselves without fear -- parental fear or their own fear, which would limit their opportunities.

I felt compelled to move forward with the trampoline enclosure idea and let it spring into being. I couldn't hesitate any longer. I knew I needed to go down that path and trust that God would change my direction if necessary.

Find people who share your vision and enthusiasm:
When you have people who are embracing an idea with their hearts, believing that what they're doing will make a difference, and are working largely for unselfish reasons, there's an inspirational quality to the atmosphere of thought. This kind of atmosphere heightens spiritual sensitivity and elevates people, giving them an uncanny ability to coordinate themselves with the people and activities around them.

Identify the need/issue correctly:

  • We needed to design an enclosure that was structurally sound and durable.
  • It also had to be aesthetically pleasing, unobtrusive, easy to install, and universal or capable of fitting on every type and size of trampoline – 10, 12, 14 foot.
  • Plus, it needed to fit into a small box because retailers think of profit in terms of profits per cubic inch. If your product is too big, it may not generate enough profit to make it worthwhile.
  • Finally, it had to be cost-effective and affordable for families.

Use everything you have/Examine things from every perspective:
My background as a contractor taught me to problem-solve. I was always trying to see different possibilities for remodeling a space in the most cost-effective manner.

My structural and mechanical know-how also helped. Rather than over-engineer the product, we leveraged structural components from the bed and legs of the trampoline to help with energy absorption. We wrung every ounce of structural capability we could get out of the trampoline itself to capture impact forces from the netting so that we could reduce costs and put it in a very small box.

Ask the right questions:
We then needed to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

  • How do we make it less obtrusive in a back yard?
  • What kind of materials can we use?
  • Is there anything else we can change?

Pray at all times and in every stage of problem-solving/solution-finding:
One day as I was praying about what to do, I was watching my son jump on our trampoline. I asked him to try to jump over the netting. He couldn't jump up nearly as high as I thought he could. So we lowered the poles by two feet. This was a big cost-saver, as it cut off sixteen feet of structural steel.

Be open to new inspiration:
I had a neat little epiphany that we could put ball caps on top of the now shorter poles. No one had ever used short straight up poles for this purpose. For example, other designs bent the poles outward. People believed that jumpers would hurt themselves, but we proved it was safe. We received a patent for this simple design because it was so counterintuitive to the prevailing thought. The Courts upheld these patents when we sued to enforce them against copy-cats.

Expect good: An expectation of good is so vital.
The people who work with me expect that as they work towards a goal, they'll be guided, and the right idea will come forward.

Listen for God's guidance:
Being guided requires listening. We can't just work, work, work. We have to listen for guidance and follow through. When we have good motives, we discover that angels, or thoughts from God, are guiding us, telling us what to research and when or even whom to call and when to call them. It's God who is guiding.

Look for ideas in unique places:
We needed a particular clamp and couldn't find anything that would work. My next-door neighbor was out working on his VW car that had been designed during World War 2. It had the perfect sized clamp, and it worked beautifully. We ended up buying the tools from the original plant that made the VW so that we could make the clamp ourselves. It was so well-designed and executed that it's one of the parts we still use today.