Long before Tony Fadell founded internet-of-things company Nest, his former boss, Steve Jobs, asked him to adopt a different kind of perspective at Apple.

"Steve Jobs challenged us to come into work every day to see our products through the eyes of the customer -- the new customer," Fadell said. "He called it 'staying beginners.'"

Fadell spoke Wednesday in Vancouver during a creativity segment at the TED2015: Truth and Dare conference. Fadell's company Nest, which was was acquired by Google last year, makes a smart thermostat and smoke detector.

During his talk, Fadell aimed to pinpoint exactly where good ideas come from. 

In short, he said, they're derived from everyday annoyances. Think: hard to remove fruit sticker labels, finicky hot/ cold water temperature controls and the dozens of other maddening universal experiences that Jerry Seinfeld has worked into a standup routine. 

Generally humans deal with these repeated inconveniences by eventually becoming numb to them. A comedian's job is to identify these kinds of occurrences and make fun of them.

"But designers, innovators and entrepreneurs -- it's our job to not just notice those things, but take it one step further and try to fix them," Fadell said.

He argued that anyone can condition themselves to spot good ideas. He gave three tips for pulling it off:

1. Look broader 

Sometimes good solutions are not quite good enough. For example, during the energy crisis in the 1970s, thermostat designers added an interface that allowed users to specify what temperature they wanted their house to be at certain times of the day.

It was a smart modification, but, ultimately, it didn't save users any energy, Fadell said. It turns out that people weren't good at predicting the future. So when Nest introduced its thermostat in 2011, it employed a machine learning algorithm that noted user habits and and controlled temperature accordingly. 

2. Look closer

When Nest first released its thermostat, the product came with three screws, which didn't work with every wall type. So the company went back to the drawing board.

"Are those important? Or is that the way we've always done it? Maybe there's a way to get rid of those," Fadell said the designers asked. In the end, they designed one custom screw that worked for everyone.

3. Think Younger

Thinking like a kid is the ultimate way to "stay a beginner," Fadell said. Children haven't yet had enough experience to become habituated to their environment. 

"My advice that we take to heart is to have young people on your team or people with young minds. Because if you have those young minds, they cause everyone in the room to think younger," Fadell said.

Published on: Mar 19, 2015