I look at innovation primarily through the lens of “How does it make people’s lives better?”

It’s not about what. It’s about why.

Innovation isn’t about what’s under the hood. Let’s face it—people don’t care how many patents you have. People want to know how technology makes their lives better. How am I able to do something today I couldn’t do a year ago? How can I do something better today than I did yesterday?

Consider headsets.

Initially, headsets were for telephone operators. Nothing revolutionary—they just helped operators make better phone calls. When there was a human need to capture voice and not noise, headsets solved the problem. Innovation made phone calls better for humans.

But then people decided they wanted to listen to music and phone calls. Innovation came to the rescue again, with headsets designed to optimize the music experience while still making phone calls really well. Headsets became vastly more valuable with applied innovation.

Forget about making better phone calls or listening to music. The new challenge—the human challenge—became how do I get my work done in this environment?

And then came the open office.

Oddly enough, noise cancelling technology wasn’t a big priority for audio engineers. As audio purists, they pretty much disdained anything that degraded audio quality, and noise cancelling knocked out a full 3%! Sure, there were some situations where it made sense, like in a plane. It was easy to engineer, given the consistent noise that an engine makes. But cancelling out human conversation? The varieties of voices, intonations,decibels…it simply wasn’t worth it to innovate when it meant loss of audio quality.

But it’s amazing what happens when the challenge becomes personal.When the purists ended up in open offices, they suddenly realized the value of noise cancelling headphones—they felt the pain!  Yet even with noise cancellation, they recognized a need for greater innovation to promote focus. They played around with a variety of ideas…and ended up with a waterfall.

Yep. A waterfall.

Turns out you can hear a keyboard from 15 feet away—but the noise made by a waterfall actually mutes the annoying sound, helping people focus without normal distractions. A truly unique solution—engineers viscerally understanding a problem and coming up with a clever way to combat it. And when customers visited the facility and saw how elegant a solution it was, they asked us to build it for them. The success of Habitat owes its genesis to engineers who just wanted to focus at work!

So what’s next? As customers continue to care deeply about one thing (What’s in it for me?),true innovators will design with the user in mind. At Plantronics, we obsess over details like weight and thickness, remembering that while 10 grams may seem like nothing when weighing a ribeye steak, it’s huge when you consider what it feels like if you wear headphones all day for a living. Removing 10 grams of weight is a brilliant way to make people’s lives better.

We’re working on some really cool stuff set to launch this spring, innovation that leverages the best of current technologies and mashes them up to meet real needs…real human needs.

For instance, imagine losing your Voyager headset. Let’s face it—it happens to all of us. We’ve forgotten to put it where we “always put it,” and now we have no idea where we’ve left it. Turns out, however, that a six-year-old consumer electronics company just up the peninsula can do more than find your lost keys. By building Tile technology into our products and leveraging their vast cloud-sourced ecosystem and finding power,we’ll make it impossible for you to lose your Voyager, no matter where it is.That’s innovation with genuine value, innovation spawned from our closeness to human beings, to our ability to understand the needs and the ways in which life can just be…better.

The sky is the limit when it comes to great ideas, and you can expect to hear more from us in the weeks ahead. For me, innovation is simple: solve problems. Build a product. Build a company.

Make lives better.