Voices Of Innovation: Jeff Hawkins

Creator of the first PalmPilot PDA and Handspring smart phone and author of the book On Intelligence, about the human brain and intelligent machines.

Let's talk about serial innovators. What's the secret to success?

I don't know if there's a secret to success. I've had a great deal of success myself. I also have had my share of failure. To me, being a great innovator is like batting in baseball. If you're batting .300 or .350, you're doing pretty well. Most people, they never get a hit. I try to think very hard about what's ultimately going to happen. Ultimately, everything's going to be wireless. Ultimately, everything's going to be portable. I figured that out a long time ago.

The trick is once you see that long-term vision, you then ask yourself, how do I get there step by step? You can't just solve all the problems at once and bingo, you have an industry. No, you have to solve a whole bunch of those problems, and along the way you have to make money while you're doing it.

And so what steps do you do? Even though I thought all computers would be mobile computers at some point, we said we can't do the wireless piece. We could do a connected organizer, and bingo, we did that. You always have the future vision in place. That tells you what you have to do.

Can a company be a big innovator?

Companies don't innovate; people do. If you're going to innovate, you have to overcome problems. In a startup, you're going to have all these people telling you you're wrong. If you're at a big company, you're going to have all these people telling you you're wrong. It takes a lot of nerve and perseverance. You have to keep fighting the battles.

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