Paul Norford, Zebra Technologies: We’ve Got to Be Curious!

Zdeňka Linková Aimtec
30. 1. 2019 | 6 minutes reading

Paul Norford was one of the main speakers at TAL 2018, where he enchanted us all with his energy and his words on innovation, data and the rise of new generations. What, in Paul’s opinion, leads us towards change? And how do people today differ from their Stone Age predecessors?

If a company is saying: “Now we should innovate”, where should they start? Is it the idea? Is it the processes? What is it?

I love the concept of just spending time and playing. We are so focused on work these days – and we do have to deliver. That’s a given. I think in order to innovate and to be creative, you have to create a space to be creative. You have to almost push things aside and say, “I’m going to spend” – and I’ll just come up with some concepts – “I’m going to spend an hour every Friday just looking through the internet, just to see what there is.” Because there’ll be ideas generated from just spending time in a decompressed zone to just think a little bit clearly. 

I think holidays are also important; they get you out of your normal comfort zone, out of running 158 miles per hour, trying to get things delivered. But if you step back, it gives you an opportunity to think, to consider, to process, to compartmentalise and just to have a look at the world in a slightly different way. From that point, when you have that space to think differently, to think of it slower, without the pressures of time – or everything else – that’s when creativity is born. That’s when innovation starts. You look at something in a slightly different way and think: “Wait a minute!” 

And I think when you come back to the office or you come back to your environment to work, if you take that idea and you’re given the empowerment to go and fail – go and fail fast! – that’s when true innovation happens. It doesn’t matter how you do it, when you do it, but you’ve got to create that space for that innovation spark to happen.

What are the biggest obstacles you are facing with your clients? Are they obstacles in technologies, or instead obstacles in our minds?

I think it’s Option C, which is All of the Above! I think sometimes we have great ideas and we’re unable to implement those ideas because the technology’s not quite there yet. Or it’s too expensive to embrace that technology and to use it. That won’t stop us in moving in that direction, but it is a bit of a barrier. 

I also think, sometimes, we as humans, we don’t really realise that we’re blocking change, that we’re blocking our curiosity to innovate, to continue and push forwards, and I believe we have to look back at history to consider – how did we innovate, going from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age? How did we change? What elements, what processes did we go through? I don’t believe there’s any big change or difference now; we humans haven’t really evolved since the dawn of time. So those processes still apply. Those elements of curiosity still apply. So if we can remember how to be curious, if we can remember how to act like a five-year-old, sometimes, that will help us remove some of these… let’s call them human obstacles.

How should we explain to people that technologies are OK?

Wow. That’s a big question! I think when it comes down to embracing technology, we have to consider where we’ve come from, and where technology is going. Everybody, certainly in my view, is very focused on the newer technology and where that technology is taking us. You also, I believe, have to look at the younger generation, when it comes to embracing technology – they love it! If you give your smartphone to a two-year-old, they’re able to unlock it, and find YouTube, and get to games, and so on and so forth. 

And I believe in order for us to really embrace technology and take it forwards, we’ve got to be curious, and we’ve got to make sure that we nurture that curiosity, because it’s that that’s going to take us forwards. Of course there’s things around moral values, about what we do with the technology, privacy, the GDPR has kicked in… what do we do around that? That’s a whole other conversation. But certainly for me, making sure that we nurture and continue to be curious will help us accelerate and adopt technology, but also it will help us keep our mindset fresh and focused on the future. 

How is Zebra helping clients with this step forward?

We’ve implemented that space where we’re able to stop and spend some time – playing, let’s say. We’re also embracing newer technologies. If we think about Android: that operating system has been with us for a number of years now. If we hadn’t stopped and played with Android when we did, back in 2010, 2011, we wouldn’t be in the strong position where we are now, so I think it’s our responsibility to spend that time playing and to create spaces, to create devices, to create technologies, to create thought processes for our customers. For me a lot of it comes down to communication. If you don’t communicate effectively, you’re not able to do the things that we have done, so – it’s a lesson for us as well! We need to continue to be curious, but also to push the boundaries and be empowered to push those boundaries, to work with our customers and partners to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. 

Paul Norford is in charge of spreading new solutions at Zebra Technologies. Besides this solution evangelism, he’s also a global trainer for Zebra’s sales teams. He enthusiastically helps customers and partners to change how they do business. Beyond his vast energy, Paul also brings a wealth of knowledge, idea leadership, creativity and involvement in promoting innovative solutions at the customer. Hear this interview at

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