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iPod Inventor At TED: "Think Young"

Wearables technology that helps deaf people “hear,” settling people on Mars and cloning human minds are just some of the hot topics that are being explored at this week’s TED Conference in Vancouver.

Wearables technology that helps deaf people “hear,” settling people on Mars and cloning human minds are just some of the hot topics that are being explored at this week’s TED Conference in Vancouver. The annual conference, which features a wide range of speakers from all over the world, focuses on the latest innovations in technology, education and design. One buzzworthy talk that caught our Counselor editor’s eye yesterday: a speech given by Tony Fadell, who created the iPod with Steve Jobs and now is the CEO of Nest, the company that developed the “smart” thermostat for the home.

In his talk, the product designer said that he and his employees fight every day against the tendency toward habituation – humans’ tendency toward getting used to everyday patterns or behaviors, even if they aren’t useful. One example: We get used to peeling off the annoying stickers on fruit like bananas, so much that it’s become second nature. We may not like peeling off the stickers, but we’ve become resigned to doing so.

Fadell said the trick for product designers is to try to view their product every day “for the first time,” so that they can uncover invisible problems and solve them. He offered up a few tips to try to avoid habituation.

First, focus on the details. When he first created Nest, Fadell said, he and his team members literally spent months agonizing over designing a tiny, custom-made screw that would make installing the home thermostat much easier. Though this process took a long time, he said, the result was met with rave reviews by users.

Next, thing young, hire young. Fadell said young people (his own kids included) often ask questions that adults would never dream of, like “Why doesn’t the mailbox just check itself and tell us when it has mail?” Young people, he said, are less exposed to everyday problems, so they often think more creatively. “Have people with young minds on your team,” he said, and hire as many young people as you can. “We all saw the world more clearly before habits got in the way,” he said.

TED continues today with talks by astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, social activist Monica Lewinsky and global journalist Noy Thrupkaew. Check out the May issue of Counselor for a full report of the conference.