Exclusive: Guy Kawasaki on what really matters when it comes to innovation

The Silicon Valley legend shares insights from his career with Apple, Google, Mercedes, and Canva, and interviews with the likes of Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, and Marc Benioff

At a time when Apple’s Macintosh was thought of as an ‘unknown platform,’ Guy Kawasaki ‘got it’ immediately:

“When I saw what a Macintosh could do, the clouds parted and the angels started singing,” Kawasaki shared in a blog.

It was 1984 when Kawasaki became one of the first Apple employees to work under Steve Jobs. His job was to help market and launch the Macintosh when two-thirds of corporate customers used a PC, while only 9 per cent chose Apple.

Kawasaki was lucky as he didn’t have the required work or education background. His former Stanford college roommate, Mike Boich, got him the job and vouched for him when HR asked, “If he weren't your best friend, would you still hire him?"

Fast forward to today, Kawasaki is widely known for the impact of his work as chief evangelist at Apple and now at Canva. He’s also started his own successful companies and a VC firm, Garage Technology, and has written many best-selling books.

While Kawasaki has been preparing to visit Vancouver for his keynote at INNOVATEWest, we chatted about what people may be surprised to learn from his talk, what really matters when it comes to innovation, and the most important resource.

Making an exception for Vancouver 

What drew Kawasaki to visit Vancouver for INNOVATEWest is his love for the theme of innovation and for Canada and Vancouver in general. 

“I turn down almost all speaking engagements at this point,” said Kawasaki. “At this stage in my career, I don't do things out of some desperate need to speak. But when it's the confluence of a country I like, in a city I like, on a topic I like [...] It's hard to turn that down.”

The Silicon Valley legend highlighted he’s no stranger to the tech built here and is even an avid user of Hootsuite. He’s also looking forward to checking out his favourite spots in Vancouver. If you don’t get the chance to run into Kawasaki at INNOVATEWest, you might just find him at Granville Island. 

For Kawasaki’s keynote, attendees can expect him to dive into innovation secrets shared in his latest book, Murder Your Mediocrity: Think Remarkable.

Inspired by the popular podcast, the book distills insights from Kawasaki’s career with Apple, Google, Mercedes, and Canva, and around 250 hours of interviews with remarkable leaders like Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, and Marc Benioff.

When asked what attendees may be surprised to learn, Kawasaki shared what he says people don’t expect to hear when starting a venture.

“The first thing you need to do is work on the little things,” said Kawasaki. “Don't get all caught up in trying to be a visionary leader and all that. Start with the basics like what kind of email address do you have? What kind of avatar do you have? Is there a signature line in your email?”

Kawasaki added that as humans, we’re wired to make micro judgements, so it’s important to get past them to get the opportunities that you want.

‘Veins of innovation’

When it comes to approaching innovation, Kawasaki highlighted the two ‘very rich veins’ are seeing your customer and being your customer.

“The second flip side is that you work backwards from what the customer needs as opposed to what you've done, what you like to do, and what you're currently doing because it's all about what the customer needs.”

Kawasaki encouraged people not to get ‘lost in the clouds’ trying to solve humongous problems but to take things one step at a time — starting with answering simple questions.

“Why isn't there a better way, or why do things have to be the way they are? That's the foundation of great change. It's not because you asked about sort of megalomaniac, world domination strategies.”

Kawasaki added: “Canva answers a very simple question, right? Why can't I make beautiful graphic designs? [...] Canva has answered it very well.”

‘The most important resource’

The final takeaway Kawasaki shared is what’s often overlooked about entrepreneurship in today’s landscape.

“It all comes down to people, so that's community. Your relationship with people is by far the most important resource. Money is not the most important resource.”

For Vancouverites feeling pressured to build in Silicon Valley — whether for relationships or a product — Kawasaki said location matters less and less.

“Don't believe that you have to be in any particular physical place. What you have to do is work backwards from the customer: empathize with what they need and solve their pain. You can be anywhere in the world and be successful in tech if you can do those things.”

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