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July 6, 2021 26 min

Let's talk about some non-obvious sources of my innovation inspiration. Recently, we spoke about seeing with fresh eyes and how important that practice is. Fresh eyes need innovation inspiration to guide them towards that next game-changing innovation.

The Power of Unexpected Conversations

The first source of my innovation inspiration is unexpected conversations. I like to talk with interesting people who have different backgrounds than I do. I often do this on airplanes or at rest stops, as well as at large events like TED. My goal of these conversations is to walk away with at least one exceptional idea. I have a set of questions that I ask people in unexpected discussions, such as, "What are you curious about?" or "What innovation do you want to see come to fruition during your lifetime"?

In the 90s, my uncle owned Macarthur Fish and Poultry in the heart of Oakland. One thing that frustrated him was missed phone calls that often led to missed opportunities. During the holiday seasons, it was hard to keep up with numerous calls.

At the time, I was in the telecoms business, and I figured out that it was recorded every time a phone number was called. We decided to look up the callers' information from these missed calls and put it into emails. We would then send it to the store owner to call back, which led to more business. The product was called Imagine and went on to amass a ton of success after its launch in 1998. The success of Imagine eventually became the cornerstone of Telligent, which then grew to be a $3.1 billion business.

All of this resulted from a few unexpected conversations with my uncle and fellow shop owners on Macarthur Boulevard in Oakland, California. Never underestimate the power of an unexpected conversation.

Observe and Erase Annoyances

The second source of my innovation inspiration is being observant of what annoys me. We all have things that bother us. It is essential to ask what is causing these annoyances and how they're erased. I've been in the mobile phone industry since the late 80s, so I have many experiences with smartphones. In the early days, smartphones could only run single apps at a time.

A group called Palm had developed a new system called webOS which could run multiple applications simultaneously. I loved webOS so much that I convinced HP to buy it for $3.5 billion. They created what I would call the best smartphone approach out there, which was way ahead of Apple at the time. Now, all smartphones have the system that webOS developed. All of this was a result of an annoyance that a team decided to erase.

Asking Deep Questions

The third source is asking the "who, what, when, where, why" questions and applying them to your area of focus. For instance, I am currently reading "This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends" by Nicole Perlroth. Through reading this book and others, I've come up with a way to generate ideas by asking these questions.

Ask yourself what the more profound thing is that will allow you to dig deeper. I have come up with tons of ideas based on what Perlroth shares in the book. My objective is to come up with at least one interesting idea from every chapter. Ultimately, it is essential to remember that inspiration is everywhere, no matter where you are or what situation you find yourself in.

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