Wednesday in Menlo Park: Kelley brothers at Kepler's

"'We're not saying creative work is easy. It's hard. It's hard, but you love it." -- Tom Kelley, Menlo Park resident and best-selling author

At Kepler's: Tom and David Kelley will talk about their new work, "Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us," at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Kepler's bookstore, 1010 El Camino Real in Menlo Park. The event is free and seating is first come, first served.

By Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer

The whirlwind that is Tom Kelley was heading to San Francisco International Airport for "the ninth city in 10 days" on Oct. 23, another stop on the book tour for "Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All," which the long-time Menlo Park resident co-authored with brother David.

The two brothers are partners at IDEO, a global design and innovation firm noted for creating consumer products such as Apple's first mouse and the first stand-up, no-squeeze tube of toothpaste, as well as winning awards for innovations that have transformed business, government and health care.

David also founded Stanford University's Institute of Design school, while Tom, the best-selling author of "The Art of Innovation" and "The Ten Faces of Innovation," sits on the faculty of the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley and the University of Tokyo.

According to the book's preface, "Creative Confidence" took shape after the brothers vowed to collaborate on a project as well as take a "fun brother-brother trip" if David survived a bout with cancer. The trip took them to Tokyo and Kyoto; the collaboration led to a book about "helping people be more creative," as Tom described it.

He himself sounds nowhere close to running out of ideas. Mr. Kelley applies the suggestions in his own day-to-day life, jotting down entries on a "bug list" of situations where he thinks, 'Couldn't I do something about this?'

For instance: standing around the luggage carousel at the airport. "I try not to check a bag. But when I do, it's a very odd feeling -- you're waiting there with 200 other people, all waiting for some black bag."

He said the greatest anxiety isn't whether your bag will appear in one minute or five minutes, but "Is my bag in this airport right now?"

A technological solution may be very close, Mr. Kelley suggested. Something that tells you "'I'm your bag. I'm not there yet. I'm within 100 yards of you.'"

It's the lack of information that creates the anxiety, he said, whether you're waiting at the airport or in the emergency room.

Waiting is a theme. Mr. Kelley wondered out loud why watches are the only everyday consumer product that requires going to a specialist to change the battery. As much as he likes the Menlo Clock Works Shop, "I wait in line behind other people getting their watch battery changed. Every time I think, 'What's wrong with this picture?' We've got busy days, we shouldn't be waiting in line at clock shops."

Also: A trustworthy program to convert spoken words to written. "I can speak much faster than I can write. We're 80 percent of the way there; it would be great if I could just say everything and trust it."

And: Discreet identification of people you run into around town. "I meet more people in a year than I think the human brain can contain. 'You don't remember me, do you?' I hate that question."

Google Glasses may be a step too far, but a little camera on a lapel that took a shot every time he shook someone's hand, and stored the person's name, that could work. "What I really want is something that whispers in my ear, 'That's Don Sanders.'"

Walking with wife Yumi -- "we literally never go out without running into people she knows, and she gives me a running commentary on when we met, what they wore and what they ate" -- smooths over the encounters, but what to do when he's on his own? "Especially as I get older. It's a big issue. You look socially awkward when you bump into someone and don't recognize them; it's seen as rude."

Unasked questions

"Nobody's asked directly, 'Are books hard?' Absolutely," Mr. Kelley said, with emphasis. "At a minimum it's a year of your life. This book, it was six years percolating, then writing seven days a week. I wrote on Christmas Day."

The two brothers will be speaking about their new book at Kepler's Books on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

"I almost cried the first time I went into Kepler's and saw how many thousands of books are there on the shelf. How many lives are represented, how many hours spent writing to make the books," Mr. Kelley said.

He shared a story from "Creative Confidence": While in high school, a friend got to ask legendary musician Yo-Yo Ma a question: "Isn't it wonderful not to have to practice every day?"

Mr. Ma responded: "I have bad news for you. I practice six hours a day."

"We're not saying creative work is easy," Mr. Kelley said, and paused before continuing. "It's hard. But it's hard and you love it."


Like this comment
Posted by Charlie Quimby
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Too bad Mr. Kelley thinks technology is the answer to a problem when his marriage to Yumi is actually the most elegant solution!

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