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Inside the Mind ofanInventor

An Interview with Kenneth Scheel

Inside the Mind ofanInventor An Interview with Kenneth Scheel 2012 Copyright. All rights reserved.

2012 Copyright. All rights reserved.

As

part

of inventor

our

ongoing

series

showcasing

great

examples

of creative

uses

of

games,

stories

and

ideas,

The

Game

Gal

interviewed

Kenneth

Scheel,

of the

award winning

toy KEVA the classic

Contraptions,

Fling

Sock game of

catch and

noted author.

Let’s dive right Kenneth’s mind.

in to

S o c k g a m e o f catch and n o t e
Kenneth, is the following a true statement? Inventors invent in order to solve a problem.

Kenneth, is the following a true statement? Inventors invent in order to solve a problem.

Scheel: Absolutely. Anybody who thinks of a new way to do something or devises a new gizmo or tool to get something done is inventing. Their inventions may not be commercially viable but they are still inventors. Creative problem solving is part of what it means to be human.

You invented the fascinating and award winning wood construction set called KEVAContraptions. What was the problem you were solving?problem solving is part of what it means to be human. Scheel: Precision wood KEVA planks

Scheel: Precision wood KEVA planks have been around for many years and they are great fun for building structures, bridges, sculptures and lots more – and I still love building with them. One problem with them is that they generally do not create any action. Once you build something, the only action is knocking it down – which actually is very fun. I guess the problem I was solving was a search for more action.

the problem I was solving was a search for more action. What was the problem you

What was the problem you solved with the Fling Sock toy you invented?

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Scheel: I worked as summer staff for a YMCA camp while I was in college. The camp had always done activities with Frisbees but I found that many kids were not skilled enough with the Frisbee to play Ultimate or other games. When kids can't make the Frisbee go where they want, they get frustrated or embarrassed.

One day, after watching wild Frisbee throws ruin the enthusiasm for the game, I scavenged an empty bread wrapper from the camp kitchen, put a clump of dirt in the bread wrapper and dropped the dirt "bean bag" into one of my long sweat socks (sweat socks used to be soooo looong). We swung the sock underhand at our sides like a propeller and let it go. Everyone could throw it easily and the soft beanbag was easy to catch and less intimidating.

a propeller and let it go. Everyone could throw it easily and the soft beanbag was

I refined the design, patented it and licensed it to Saturnian 1 Sport, a toy company, which still manufactures and distributes them today.

which still manufactures and distributes them today. Great example of how an inventive mind sees opportunities

Great example of how an inventive mind sees opportunities for fun!

Now walk us through your thought process for KEVA Contraptions. Did you immediately see the end result? Or did you have a series of visions that were stepping- stones to the final product?

Scheel: One day while using KEVA planks to design structures on my ping-pong table, I picked up a ping-pong ball and made a small ramp for it. This led to longer ramps and more and more elaborate contraptions through which the ping-pong ball traveled.

Over the next few months I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea I wanted to try. I would wake up early and give it a try. Sometimes it worked. Almost always I needed to try several revisions before I arrived at a design that both looked good and functioned properly.

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My designs needed to be simple enough for kids to build.

2 My designs needed to be simple enough for kids to build. An early prototype of

An early prototype of the KEVA Catapult Kit. See the final retail product at Mindware.com.

After awhile I realized that I couldn’t remember all of my previous designs so I had to get more systematic. At this point I thought I might have a new type of construction set on my hands so I started taking photos of everything I built and sometimes created a permanent glued model.

Eventually I had a large collection of contraptions and decided to launch KEVA Contraptions as a game that provided an entirely new way to build with the planks. KEVA Contraptions is the only "marble run" type construction set that makes use of a bouncing ball, which allows some unexpected action.

use of a bouncing ball, which allows some unexpected action. Duringtheearlydevelopment, I made many very crude

Duringtheearlydevelopment, I made many very crude ramps and chutes to get the ball moving. I found many configurations that worked but some of them looked clunky or sloppy. I would wonder if I could make the ball run a zigzag pattern and then experiment with various ways to accomplish a zigzag.

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In fact, as a problem solver, Contraptions creates and solves problems within itself so it is a great way to inspire innovation as people build with it.

Problem: The ball won’t move. Solution: Place the ball on a sloped plank. Problem: The ball falls off the side of the plank Solution: Add sides to the plank. (Chute)

side of the plank Solution: Add sides to the plank. (Chute) From a process standpoint, where

From a process standpoint, where did you start with your invention? Did you develop a concept statement?

Scheel: No. I always start by making prototypes to find out if my ideas that seem so promising in my head or scrawled on the back of an envelope actually work in real life.

Almost every time, I make very important improvements when I see how the prototypes actually work. The number of contraptions gradually grew until I thought I had enough cool designs to launch a new toy. I tried a few different kinds of balls but I liked ping pong balls because they are very light, bouncy and can’t be swallowed. They make it different than conventional marble runs.

Did you call an Intellectual Property lawyer and discuss your idea? Scheel: Yes. Once I

Did you call an Intellectual Property lawyer and discuss your idea?

Scheel: Yes. Once I settled on the name, I contacted my attorney to get started on the trademark protection.

Did you assemble a team right away?my attorney to get started on the trademark protection. Scheel: Not really. I would design new

Scheel: Not really. I would design new contraptions and demonstrate them for my children and wife to get feedback on the coolness factor.

my children and wife to get feedback on the coolness factor. Did you develop a budget

Did you develop a budget and schedule?

Scheel: I did not need a budget for developing the contraptions themselves. On this project I did most of the photography myself as well as the initial graphic design for the instruction book.

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as the initial graphic design for the instruction book. 4 This is important for me to

This is important for me to know: Did you go out for ice cream?

is important for me to know: Did you go out for ice cream? Scheel: Actually, going

Scheel: Actually, going out for ice cream is about the scale of celebration we enjoy with toy inventing. I don’t get overly excited until the product is on the shelves and people are buying it and enjoying it.

Along the way, what was the first surprise obstacle you encountered?Scheel: Deciding which designs to include in the instruction book. Every type of contraption has

Scheel: Deciding which designs to include in the instruction book. Every type of contraption has many possible variations and I usually liked them all.

However, it would be overwhelming if I had included too many options. I had to choose the most important and concise designs. That was a challenge to me.

Inventing anything is filled with ups and downs. Were you prepared for the downs? If so, what got you through the frustrations?important and concise designs. That was a challenge to me. Scheel: I knew from the first

Scheel: I knew from the first few days that Contraptions was a really fun product. I tried the concept with a few kids and saw that they immediately got into it and stayed engaged for a long time. That was an “up.” The most frustrating aspect was figuring out how to include so many possible designs into an instruction book.

include so many possible designs into an instruction book. In some of my workshops on team

In some of my workshops on team building, I have used a quiz to begin the session. It’s called the Inventor’s Quiz. The lesson that follows after taking the quiz (which is creepy and impossible) addresses feeling uncomfortable about taking risks and sticking your neck out.

uncomfortable about taking risks and sticking your neck out. What was your perspective about the level

What was your perspective about the level of risk you were taking?

Scheel: I had shown a prototype of the KEVA Contraptions concept at a major Toy Fair and a larger toy company - Mindware - approached me to purchase a large volume. At the time, I had to turn them down because I could not produce as many as they wanted, which is not a good position to be in. I was not prepared to crank up my volume for a single buyer. However, later, Mindware approached me again and we agreed to develop KEVA Contraptions together. Then Mindware was taking most of the financial risk and I was taking a risk at working with another toy company for the first time. However, they needed me and my creativity and I appreciated their financial resources and excellent judgment in bringing new toys to market.

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Displaying my inventions at a Toy Fair with Mindware. Working together, Mindware and I have

Displaying my inventions at a Toy Fair with Mindware.

Working together, Mindware and I have continued to develop more successful KEVA products. I think we are a great team.

more successful KEVA products. I think we are a great team. One trait inventors have is

One trait inventors have is that they/we are collectors of lessons learned.

What advice can you give other budding inventors who itch to invent a solution to a problem?

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Scheel:

• Make a prototype to find out if your idea really works.

• Run your idea by many people you trust.

• Let them try your prototype.

• Actively seek their brutally honest opinions.

• If you are convinced that you really have a marketable idea, don’t just talk about it, do something.

• Read books about bringing products to market. Patent it Yourself and the Toy and Game Inventor’s Handbook are excellent resources.

• Decide how much money you are willing to lose chasing your dream.

• If you have a spouse, make sure she/he is totally on board.

• Most likely you will lose your money and you need to be OK with that.

• If you decide you are willing to risk $5000 on the project, commit the money and enjoy the ride.

• Don’t agonize over every penny.

• Think ahead to be sure your money will fund your plan.

I write a lot about using games for team building and problem solving. I love KEVA planks as an activity to use with nearly every type of team. You train educators to use KEVA planks for team building purposes. How did that come about? What have been the results?provide games and levity to connect people (whose brilliant tagline is that?). I can’t end

provide games and levity to connect people (whose brilliant tagline is that?).

I can’t end our interview without asking you What’s Next? Can you give us a glimpse into your next invention?

Scheel: I always have ideas brewing on the back burners. I’m working on a new twist to the KEVA planks system that may be the most significant new construction system in years. By having several projects going at one time, I don’t get too bothered by delays or setbacks in any particular project. As long as I am making progress, I’m happy.

Scheel: Several years ago I met with a local group of teachers who teach gifted children to show them some basic activities they could do with their students. I received rave reviews and was invited to teach a similar session at a state conference for technology educators.

Since my sessions are 100% hands on fun and engaging, teachers thoroughly enjoy the training and see immediate ways to use it in the classroom. Invitations to teach at national conferences followed and I have greatly expanded the range of activities I teach. I now teach Art teachers, Autism professionals, gifted teachers, technology teachers, History/cultural museum educators, Science centers and more.

Congratulations on your speaking recognition! If you let me know when and where you will be speaking or training again, I’d love to post the information here for all my visitors. Attending one of your training sessions would be a blast! It seems as if your sessionsHistory/cultural museum educators, Science centers and more. Now you have me too curious! I’d like to

sessions would be a blast! It seems as if your sessions Now you have me too
sessions would be a blast! It seems as if your sessions Now you have me too

Now you have me too curious! I’d like to invite you back when your next invention makes you happy.

Thank you, Kenneth Sheel, for letting us take a quick dive into your inventive mind!

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More about Kenneth Scheel

Kenneth Scheel has developed a wide range of educational uses for his simple, high precision planks and he is a highly sought after speaker and trainer at conferences nationwide. As a resource for science centers and children's museums, Kenneth invents hands on, playful activities to engage and connect with children of all ages and all skill levels. His lessons are equally engaging for adults. KEVA planks are used in science centers, children's museums and art museums, by technology teachers, special needs and autism teachers, teachers for gifted children, art therapists, prisoner outreach, architecture firms, universities and much more. Kenneth's innovative playful approach to teaching is especially popular with STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Recently, a museum exhibit company created an exhibit about inventing toys - called Toytopia - and Kenneth Scheel is a featured inventor. He enjoys talking about the process and encouraging others to take the leap.

Recently he was rated the #2 speaker at the international Young Child Expo and Conference in New York City.

Young Child Expo and Conference in New York City. Kenneth lives in Virginia and plays with

Kenneth lives in Virginia and plays with his wife because his three daughters are grown and usually playing with someone else. In his spare time, he is an author.

Can’t wait to buy KEVA Contraptions? Click on the following link and get the fun right away:

Contact Kenneth at:

ken@kevaplanks.com

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Inside the Mind ofanInventor

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2012 Copyright.

All rights reserved.