Developed by Brian Hanley, Master's of Engineering degree candidate at Lehigh University

Developed by Brian Hanley, Master's of Engineering degree candidate at Lehigh University
Once a history major, I'm now making history developing innovative products to improve processes. I'm not a millionaire. I'm an expert at nothing. I'm simply here to share what I've learned.

Trading is an art and practice that every entrepreneur should attempt, and ideally, master.

How to Trade? Easy. Choose a paperclip. Make a trade with someone, exchanging the paperclip for something you perceive to be of greater value. Continue to make trades and see what treasures you can acquire.

By utilizing my social networks and exercising systematic innovation methods along the way, I traded a Paperclip -> Mountainboard -> Nintendo DS -> Microwave & Clarinet. This is how it happened. 

Packed like sardines in my cream colored freezer were pre-cooked dinners. With no microwave to thaw them, I remained doomed to watch the calendar supersede their expiration dates. My ultimate goal for Trade Up was to acquire a microwave and thereby salvage the abundance of icy, rotting food in my freezer. A strange journey loomed in my future.






The Internet is a vibrant marketplace for new and pre-owned automobiles, but not necessarily for used paperclips. During Trade Up, Tony and I sought to capitalize on our market’s strengths. We created a webpage ( and applied bisocation to force associations between our paperclip and an automobile, hoping to garner customer attention and boost the marketability of our product. Much like a car dealer, we advertised the paperclip’s convenience and entertainment features, which were practically none. Still, the paperclip failed to entice an online customer base. Potential customers remained unimpressed by our attempt at humor, disinterested in a product as commonplace as a green paperclip.


paper clip


Graduation season upon us, I encountered a young Lehigh alumnus, a mutual friend of my mutual friend, hauling a heap of garbage down Hillside Avenue. Noticing treasure among his trash, I introduced myself and proposed a trade. “Hey, I’m Brian. I’m friends with some of your fraternity brothers. I’m in Lehigh’s Technical Entrepreneurship program. If you’re throwing out that mountainboard…I’ll trade you a paperclip for it… One of my assignments for class…” Long story short, he accepted the terms. We exchanged items and that was that.




As the weeks passed, I grew emotionally attached to the mountainboard. Tony became apprehensive that our inventory was gathering dust. He suggested applying Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to stir-up our thinking and help mobilize our idle business activities. This particular innovation method led to a creative breakthrough. During the caution step, de Bono’s black hat, we predicted the negative consequences of trading versus maintaining the mountainboard. I was content with keeping it. The mountainboard was unique and a product I deemed valuable for recreational use. According to Google, a mountainboard’s retail cost ranges from roughly $88 to $649. Considering that the paperclip was free, I felt extremely fortunate about our first and only acquisition. On the other hand, several individuals expressed interest in trading for the mountainboard. Apparently they also recognized value in the product and were willing to trade, perhaps, for items of superior value.



Before bringing the mountainboard to market however, we applied painstorming to help determine which, if any, customers’ pains our product might remedy. We aimed to fill a customer need rather than create one—to maximize the perceived value of our product—and thereby facilitate more favorable trades. With that in mind, we concentrated on solving environmental pains from which customers needed relief. Lehigh’s campus, notorious for its mountainous terrain, poses numerous environmental problems that a functional mountainboard helps alleviate. The mountainboard, therefore, was well suited for Lehigh students and staff looking to navigate the campus more quickly, with greater ease, and who feel comfortable riding similar, four-wheel apparatuses. Painstorming allowed us to successfully identify the niche market to which we would ultimately target our product.
tradeaway FB


Both in person and online, we began promoting the mountainboard. We targeted members of Lehigh’s longboarding community and received positive responses almost immediately. A young man named Fungshuie seemed particularly interested. Fungshuie offered to trade a Nintendo DS (videogame console) for the mountainboard. In my opinion, the mountainboard was far more desirable than the console. However, Fran Puente (a third party member) thought otherwise. Fran was willing to trade almost anything for a Nintendo DS, but he had nothing that interested Fungshuie. To appease Fran, Tony and I accepted Fungshuie’s trade. We recognized the two-pronged opportunity in satisfying both Fungshuie and Fran’s needs in one transaction. We received the Nintendo for the mountainboard and then traded the Nintendo to Fran for a used microwave and clarinet. I secured the microwave I needed, Fungshuie the mountainboard, and Fran the Nintendo. The deal was advantageous for all parties involved. The experience reinforced that it is often valuable to accept a present “down” trade for a future “up” trade—to deliberately take a loss for the sake of moving on. I lost a mountainboard that I wanted but gained a microwave that I absolutely needed.


board trade


The application of creativity and innovation methods was necessary but not sufficient in the trading process. Applying bisocation, for example, we took a car dealer’s approach to marketing our paperclip. In the end though, our application of bisocation proved feeble. We ended up trading the paperclip in person to a mutual friend. On the other hand, the combination of De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and painstorming helped tremendously to mobilize us during times of stagnation, allowing us to indentify new trading opportunities. Overall, it would be simplistic to attribute the entirety of our trading success to the application of innovation methods. Imperative to our success was the combination of creativity techniques and the maintenance and utilization of strong social networks.


For the purpose of continually incorporating innovation methods into my development of new products and services, I have created a creativity chart. Listed in the chart are: False facts, Bisocation, Kano, Trimming, Scamper, Melting Pot, Biomimicry, Blue ocean, Fishbone, Lotus, Painstorming, Six hats, Lateral benchmarking, Learn by discovery, Roger’s five factors, and Circle of opportunity. Imagine, for instance, that I decide to develop new mountainboard designs. I can systematically run each design through the chart, apply all of the aforementioned innovation methods, and generate a creative storm of ideas. Charting the creativity techniques allows for a systematic approach to and application of each innovation method. A more comprehensive, systematic approach to innovation methods results, on average, in richer, more diverse product conceptualization. In both my entrepreneurial studies and entrepreneurial career, I plan to cultivate a concerted approach to innovation through the systematic methods previously discussed.


Upon completing Trade Up, I learned that my negotiations were more effective when dealing with the three F’s (friends, family, and fools) rather than complete strangers. I also learned that my networks were strong in certain sectors and relatively weaker in others. When it came time to marketing the mountainboard, for example, I knew personally 20 to 30 potential customers. When we acquired the clarinet, on the other hand, I knew practically no dabbling musicians. Not surprisingly, I traded the mountainboard effortlessly. The clarinet, however, remains in my possession. The lesson learned is clear. There are major advantageous to trading with and selling to customers in markets with which you are personally familiar. I know hundreds of skateboarders but few clarinetists. Going forward in my entrepreneurial career, I will be more inclined to develop products that I enjoy personally—and more likely to target customers whose problems I understand thoroughly.


Taken alone, creativity and innovation methods are critical to but insufficient in defining successful entrepreneurship. Such methods inspire businesspeople to challenge uniformity, question norms, and tackle complex problems with outside-of-the-box solutions. For those reasons, I plan to incorporate innovation methods, not only in my entrepreneurial endeavors, but also in my everyday life. When, last week, my neighbors complained about excessively loud music, applying false facts, I discovered that lowering my volume was but one potential solution. I decided instead to soundproof my room’s ceiling and walls. My apartment is now practically impenetrable by sound.


Trade Up taught me both to loathe and appreciate the everyday hustle that entrepreneurship demands. Trades and sales do not just happen. People make them happen. When I became emotionally invested in the mountainboard, complacency overtook me. I had to learn to separate the product’s sentimental from its monetary value. Once Tony and I liquefied our assets, we received bigger and better acquisitions. Going forward, by charting and systematically applying innovation methods to problems that I encounter, I can remain multiple steps ahead of my competition.




I. Individual 

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”

― Leonardo da Vinci

I stumbled clumsily down the dirt path just above the statue garden near Goodman campus, blue notebook in hand. I shuffled through tall, wet grass bustling with wasps and spider webs. The coffee lingered on my burnt taste buds. Cicadas hissed all around me.


Observing nature is like tasting wine. Everybody tries it; nobody understands. How could they understand? The complexities of and relationships within the earth system are both infinite and intertwined. Incomprehensible is the sheer variety of life.


Human beings, like nature, are imaginative by necessity. We act not only instinctively. We also observe local and global networks of relationships so far beyond our grasp, and comprehend that complexity, despite the horrific odds.


In Part I, the statue garden served as my model and mentor. Meditating on old, uprooted tree trunks, I discovered inspiration. But I felt inspired, not because a particular invention dawned on me, but because through observation, I encountered a problem that nature already solved. Trees require structural support and a steady source of nourishment. Roots support and provide trees with essential resources. Black ink careening across a blue notebook, I sketched different root-inspired products. One was an irrigation system powered by gutter water. Feasible or not, the irrigation system grew out of a proven technology, one that nature meticulously crafted over hundreds of millions of years.

II. Group

“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

― Thomas Edison

            For an early dinner, Glenn Adams and I met at the Malaysia restaurant on Fourth Street. I had no expectations about Glenn or Malaysian cuisine. Though I was unfamiliar with each, each seemed pleasant in its own way.


We sat and shared ideas over warm mango tea. I showed Glenn sketches of individual products separated thematically. He led me through an impressive, illustrated stream of consciousness, dumbfounding me to my core. Glenn and I think and invent differently. But our styles of thought and invention, however distinct, proved complementary. Together we articulated whole ideas. Individually our ideas remained fragmented.


Part II taught me how to transition from an individual to a group creative process. In a group brainstorming session, creativity depends largely on respect. If one group member dominates the discourse, creativity ceases to be a two-way street, becoming a single traffic jam. Aware of that, Glen and I concentrated on exchanging one conversation at a time. We deliberately listened before speaking, asked questions before providing answers, and sought not domination, but collaboration.


Chances are, both Glenn and I are capable of tackling great feats alone. But together, our chances for success doubled. As a team, we brainstormed twice as many ideas and solved twice as many problems as we did individually. Together, we tackled twice as many feats and that is a basic fact of mathematics.

III. Presentation

“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

― Leonardo da Vinci

Part III tested the groups’ abilities to succinctly articulate their creative processes. The content of the presentations sufficed overall. Most teams elucidated their sources of inspiration, design concepts, and use of creativity techniques. Their products ranged from the practical to the ludicrous. Worthy of note: both ends of the feasibility spectrum inspire creativity, the farfetched in particular. Imagine if, in 1776, an entrepreneurial student promoted Velcro, a product inspired by burrs sticking to his dog’s fur. Critics and skeptics alike would have deemed the idea ludicrous. But in 1948, the idea stuck. The point being, no idea is too stupid or too crazy to consider. Nobody should self-impose constraints on their own or anybody else’s ideas. The next big invention could be a “Surveillance Spider” or a “Squirrel Drone,” you just never know.


Generally speaking, styles varied from group to group. I preferred PowerPoint slides with little to no text. Visual guides tend to captivate the audience. Verbose slides lead it astray. I also preferred products with names to products called “number one, number two, and number three.” Even ridiculous names bring products to life and make inventors more memorable.

IV. Conclusion

“There’s a way to do it better—find it.”

― Thomas Edison

In summary, Part I required cultivating mindfulness. I rediscovered that the natural world mentors those who listen to it closely. Part II tested the class’ teamwork skills. Collaborating with Glenn ignited my own creativity and visa versa. Part II reinforced the observation that “it is the human friction that makes the sparks” (Jonah Lehrer 2012). Finally, Part III was a test of strong verbal, but also visual communication skills. While most of the presented products will probably never make it to market, presenters conceived of their classmates as potential customers. The presentation served as a six-minute sales pitch, and our products were products of nature.


It is really quite convenient. Humans are constantly grappling with different pains and problems. Fortunately for us, the natural world has been providing solutions to similar quagmires for eons. Biomimicry bridges the gap between countless human problems and myriad solutions found in nature. If animals, plants, and microbes are the real engineers, then maybe inventors are nothing but observers attempting to mimic a near perfect model.