Innovation Wednesday: Where Do Ideas Come From?

That’s a core question here at Fast Company. I’m always interested to learn where creative people find inspiration. For Sir James Dyson, it’s annoyances from everyday life; hand dryers that left his hands moist sent him off to the lab to create a better solution. For Brian Hassemer, a senior engineer at Motorola, the magnetic catch on his kitchen cabinets was the inspiration for closing a flip phone. Ayse Birsel found patterns in nature that suggested an organic angle (120 degrees) to incorporate in an office furniture system.

Last week I read a piece in the New York Times about Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Imagine Entertainment, which he runs with director Ron Howard, is the production company behind hit movies such as A Beautiful Mind and American Gangster, as well as three of my favorite TV shows, Arrested Development, Sports Night, and Friday Night Lights. Grazer takes a remarkably disciplined approach to feeding his own eclectic mind.

“For the last 20 years,” Allison Hope Weiner wrote in the Times, “Mr. Grazer has met each week with a person who is an expert in science, medicine, politics, fashion, religion – anything other than entertainment.” A get-together with trial lawyers inspired Liar, Liar, a comedy about a lawyer afflicted with truth-telling. An encounter with a former F.B.I. agent led to the new Fox series The F.B.I.

“I want to do things that have a better chance of being thought of as original,” Grazer said. “I do everything I can to disrupt my comfort zone.”

Walter Sullivan, my wise and patient creative-writing teacher in college, used to advise the class, “Write what you know.” It’s great advice. But Grazer’s weekly habit underscores an equally important principle: Keep learning.

So, my fellow InnoWedders, what do you do to get out of your comfort zone?