By Kayla Matzek
Adam Kearney, a ‘knowledge engineer’ at Amazon tasked with improving products, obtaining data, and creating multimedia experiences through the Alexa virtual assistant, has always been interested in how to find new ideas.
“I feel like there’s a misconception on what creativity is and where you actually find it to start ideas,” Kearney said at a talk last week to UC Santa Barbara students interested in creating their own startups for the technological world.
Kearney’s talk, entitled “Truth Emerges More Readily from Error,” was part of the Media Arts and Technology (MAT) Seminar Series. He revealed the mistakes he has made along his career path and the strategies he has learned through developing websites, apps, databases, and other tech tools.
Kearney is the founder and CEO of two music platform websites called Saunter and Connectome, and an app called Propsboard. Saunter is an online platform that enables users to listen to and converse about various music artists. His other music platform Connectome is the second largest music database in the world, Kearney said. His app Propsboard is designed for users to easily manage and display apps on office TVs, a handy tool for the workplace.
Kearney said he’s learned that if an idea for a startup is praised by others right away, the chances for that project to rise in popularity are slim. Starting from the bottom with an unpopular idea, on the other hand, can lead to success.
“If you go and do something that other people don’t commonly hold to be true that you deeply believe is true,” Kearney explained, “you will be given the space to actually be creative and push the boundaries of what you think things should be.”
He suggested that many entrepreneurs run up against “false summits” while searching for opportunities to create something in the world. “Say you’re down here and you want to pick the highest point,” Kearney said, pointing to a cartoon figure on his PowerPoint presentation who is about to climb a small hill that blocks a bigger hill. “You might find the wrong hill. You think it’s the highest but you’re just blind to it because it was the closest to climb,” he said.
Kearney’s cartoon was a metaphor for entrepreneurs who mistakenly work toward an opportunity that might be local or convenient for them instead of looking at their options broadly to find the opportunity that will provide greater success in the long run.
He said he has made this mistake himself and advised, “The best kind of approach is when you’re able to distribute a bunch of bots, so to speak, to go out and find the tallest hill.” Testing the waters before diving into an option that came first, by working in a team for instance, can uncover the best possible option for growth, he said.
Kearney acknowledged that it’s very competitive in the tech world, but creativity will get you far. “Find your own tragedy that you want to fix,” he suggested. “You want to find something that you believe is true but that others don’t. That’s a good sign that you’re on the right path.”
Kayla Matzek is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Writing and Literature in the College of Creative Studies. She is a Web and Social Media Intern with UC Santa Barbara’s Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.