Follow Your Dreams, Trust Your Heart

Florence Lu

Contributed by Fang (Florence) Lu

One person who really inspired me is Thomas Edison, who accumulated more than 2,000 patents worldwide for his inventions. The most well-known of his inventions include the light bulb, motion picture, and electrographic vote recorder. All of these inventions have solved critical challenges in our lives and changed the world. Edison has inspired me to become an inventor and here I share with you a few of my inventions that have had impact on the everyday lives of people all over the planet.We all have dreams, both big and small. As a young girl growing up in China and still today as a Senior Solution Architect at IBM my dream has been to use science and technology to solve problems and make the world a better place. My journey from a curious young girl to a 4-time IBM Master Inventor and AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador was paved with knowledge from all different kinds of books, and from amazing and inspiring scientists, artists, and philosophers.   

One of the primary characteristics of an inventor is being a problem-solver. In my daily work, I am fortunate to be part of the new class of inventors who continue to identify and solve challenges facing the world today. I see invention and patenting as a great way to improve lives and make the world a better place. I constantly observe everything around me to identify everyday challenges and instinctively try to find a solution. For example, I walked into the printer room in my office one day and saw that somebody had printed a large document on the color printer. I felt that was such a big waste of ink. I did some research and realized that this was not completely the user’s fault. The printer was not designed with settings that allowed the user to print part of a document in black and white and the rest in color. To solve this problem, I designed a method to print portions of a document in color and a portion in black and white. I then filed a patent called “Systems, methods, and computer program products for printing a document with a portion of the document in color and a portion of the document in black and white.” This invention system will help save ink and reduce the environmental impact and cost of color printing.

Along with improving how an office functions, invention can be used to improve people’s daily lives. When I visited China a few years ago, I was very happy to see that some of the street maps in some of the newly developed districts have metal braille maps set up for persons with vision impairment. At the same time, I recognized that there was a lot of information on the map. It was difficult for people with normal vision to remember how to go from point A to point B in a busy district. I could imagine that it was almost impossible for vision-impaired people to be able to remember all of the detailed information from that map. I sought to find a better solution to this problem and created and patented a map display that would make it easier for visually impaired people to download all the information on a map on to their phone so they could take it with them as they explore a neighborhood. The new map I invented helps people with vision-impairments traveling independently!

Over the years I have created inventions that come in all shapes and sizes, from the Public Speaking Self Evaluation Tool, which helps people practice a speech and provides instant feedback as if they were attending a Toastmasters club meeting, to a  screen reader program that adjusts the pace of the reading based on the importance of the information in the text. To date, I have been granted over 70 patents for my creative solutions to everyday problems. How did I get here?

All day, every day, my mind is constantly looking at problems in our world, thinking how I would solve that problem, and then a few weeks later — bingo, another invention, another patent! 

I highly encourage everybody to follow their dreams and trust their heart. Think of what are some everyday problems you, your family, friends may face. Is there an invention that you can come up with to solve that problem? We can improve lives through inventions. Together we can make the world a better place!

Fang (Florence) Lu is a Senior Solution Architect and three-time IBM Master Inventor working at IBM Research. She has developed numerous software applications at IBM over the last 16 years, ranging from Enterprise Social Solutions to Healthcare Analytics. Florence avidly mentors and encourages other IBMers to turn their ideas into patents by hosting workshops and information sessions, and loves to inspire early professionals as they start their careers in computing.