We all have dreams.

Something we hope to create or accomplish. Getting started is nearly always the hardest step. There’s nothing easy in facing that looming proverbial blank page. SmartUp is a tool and resource to begin filling that page by helping you to see the world through the lens of opportunity. Little by little we are all capable of some pretty incredible things, and I’m a firm believer that it starts with knowing how and where to look.

Journalism and the rigor of writing and co-authoring nine books has taught me a lot about the value of inspiration, interviewing the right people, and good old-fashioned legwork. Two of my books significantly shaped my perspective. Through a twist of fate, I went from authoring two popular books about notorious computer hackers to co-authoring two international bestsellers on innovation with Tom Kelley of IDEO. That experience changed how I view the world and ideas. I am one of the lucky few to have interviewed David Kelley, IDEO’s founder, several times, and it’s clear that his vision has informed and elevated how much of the world – in many different fields – shapes new products, services and experiences. David pioneered a team approach to innovation and design that begins with empathy and curiosity, and then gains momentum and flexibility through rapid prototyping. David also helped define, and then widely popularized, the term “Design Thinking” and launched the Stanford “d.School” that has been widely imitated around the world.

SmartUp provides a visual and analytical framework for design thinking. It’s a melding of my lifelong love of storytelling and respect for journalism, and my newfound appreciation for design. You’ll notice our ten icons, above the fold, which symbolize core aspects of creativity and innovation, from the bumblebee that represents Cross-Pollinate (“Combine cultures, industries, and concepts to spark insights and new products”), to the flat tire that represents Failure (“Risk failure, and when you do fail (and everyone does), look to learn from it”), to the lab beaker that represents Prototype (“Practice rapid prototyping and experimenting with ideas, teams and projects”). You may also notice that each category is a verb – “Hurt,” “Dwell,”  “Play” – because I believe in action.

I’ve given dozens of talks and seminars on innovation, and frequently get the million-dollar question: “Where can we find new ideas?” My answer: Your fertile brain is your best tool to innovate. This is my simple, and I hope, powerful idea. Divide the world into ten essential ways of seeking inspiration and great new ideas. Create a visual and verbal frame for those unique ways of looking. Seek out and collect authentic stories that excite and thrill us with their potential. Curate and categorize that innovation map to help us strike out on our own journeys.

My goal is to create a practical, yet inspirational forum and resource for innovations and new ideas. Innovation is an intensely human process. It’s about developing and refining new skills and talents. There’s nothing quite like SmartUp. No one has tried to identify and categorize miniature case studies of innovation. No one has cared this much about putting the writer’s craft into little tales of innovation. I think you’ll find stories that will surprise and recharge you. I also believe that this fresh way of looking at the world will provide you with a valuable internal structure and discipline.

SmartUp will change how you think about ideas.

SmartUp is a collective effort, and on that note, I’d like to recognize some big, up-front contributions. Special thanks to my team: project leader Brian Hertzog, technical lead and icon designer Nicholas Petersen, editor Susanna Camp, and naming consultant Marc Hershon (who also coined the BlackBerry).

Today, innovation is a fuzzy term applied to all manner of things. SmartUp is an attempt to take some of the fuzziness out of innovation. To start keeping track of where inspiration and creativity originate, to tap into that spring. I can’t promise that you’ll find your next hit, but I can promise you this: Once you start seeing the world from these specific perspectives, you will interpret more of what’s going on around you, and be better equipped to make sense of what previously may have seemed to be random patterns. Your brain will change. You will have better antennae.


Photo Credit: Francisco Garcia Hristov

SmartUp was named by Marc Hershon (Marc named the Blackberry and works at Landor Associates).

Story by Jonathan Littman

Edited by Susanna Camp