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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.

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?

About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.

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