I’ve just spent the day listening to 27 talks at the TEDWomen 2015 conference in Monterey, Calif., and I’m feeling both inspired and a little sheepish: I haven’t created a robot that helps out during disasters or a computer program that can read emotions. And I haven’t studied how the genomes of microbes could be used to eradicate the Ebola virus. It turns out I’m not the only one feeling this way. “After a day like this, it makes me think ‘What am I doing with my life, and what more can I do?’” says Melissa Knapp, senior vice-president, global creative, for Clinique. I’ve joined Knapp and Jane Lauder, the company’s global brand president, at a dinner party to celebrate this year’s conference. We’re also here to mark the launch of the Clinique Smart Ideas contest, which is being held in partnership with TED.

“Smart ideas come from everywhere,” explains Lauder. “The ideas we’re interested in don’t have to be beauty related; we’re looking for projects that can help women around the globe – like the one we heard from Achenyo Idachaba.” The Nigerian-based entrepreneur (and the first speaker at the conference) started a company to create household goods, like lampshades and baskets, from aquatic weeds that have infested the region. “She created a sustainable craft out of necessity,” says Lauder. “So many of the TED speakers came up with really great ideas that stemmed from some sort of need. And that’s how Clinique was born, in a way,” she says, referring to the brand’s origin story.

In 1967, beauty editor Carol Phillips published a magazine article called “Can Great Skin Be Created?” where she interviewed dermatologist Norman Orentreich about how to treat various skin issues and the power a skincare routine can play in that process. Estée Lauder’s Leonard Lauder saw the story and challenged the editor and the doctor to create a skincare line that was dermatologist backed, allergy tested, fragrance-free – and customizable for different skin types.

When I speak with Knapp again a few weeks after the conference, she has refined her own TED takeaway about how to “do more,” thanks to advice from TEDWomen 2015 speaker and management consultant Margaret Heffernan. “She said that it’s not just about what you can do; it’s about what we are doing collectively to make incredible things and to make a difference,” says Knapp. “In the end, I came away super-inspired and knowing that I just need to keep doing what I’m doing—because what I’m doing is pretty awesome, and I’m surrounded by other amazing women who are helping me do it as well.”

EUREKA MOMENTS: Four fabulous beauty ideas.

A custom idea
“So much of what Clinique is about is custom fit,” says Lauder. “Our first ‘slide computer,’ which helps determine the right products for different skin needs, was created in 1968 after our founder, Carol Phillips, went to a store to buy a pair of shoes and saw a foot-measurement tool. [You put your foot on it, and it slides to your foot width and length.] She was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is the best way to tell the differences in different women’s skin.’ Our entire three-step system of cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize was created so that it can be used in different ways on the skin. It was not one-size-fits-all.”

A happy idea “How does a fragrance-free brand launch a fragrance?” asks Lauder. “At TEDWomen, [management consultant] Margaret Heffernan talked about how it’s people, not companies, who come up with ideas. In 1997, our then creative director, Jim Nevins, was an example of that. He’d been watching late-night TV, and Judy Garland was singing ‘come on, get happy.’ It clicked for him. When you have products that have a universal truth in them, the idea resonates. So we made Happy, our first fragrance. It has citrus and an effervescent quality that is energizing.” Clinique Happy Eau de Parfum Spray ($80 for 50 mL)

An artistic idea “We launched a line of primers and lipsticks earlier this year called Pop Lip,” says Knapp. “Next spring, we’re coming out with a suite of products that is going to supplement that. One of them is a lip lacquer, which you use with a brush. Another is a lip oil that will give you a sheer sheen. All these different mediums got us thinking about mixed media and how artists work – how they build watercolours or how they use lacquer if they need an incredibly rich pop of colour. So that informs the advertising – it’s going to look like a pop artist’s canvas.” Clinique Pop Lip Colour Primer in Punch Pop ($21)

A smart idea “The premise for our Smart line started with insight from our R&D team and biologists about how to create a product that could read your skin and be a multi-tasking product based on you,” says Janet Pardo, Clinique’s senior vice-president, product development. “We thought, ‘If a woman can do five things at once, why shouldn’t her skincare be able to do that?’ The beauty behind the science and chemistry is formulating something that doesn’t cancel out the other active ingredients—that’s hard to do.” Clinique Smart Custom-Repair Eye Treatment ($59)

INSPIRING MINDS: Inside the creative brains at Clinique.

Jane Lauder, global brand president
On personal inspo “I try to run on the weekends on the road or on the beach in the Hamptons. It’s when I can actually think and meditate. That’s usually when I have moments of ‘Ohh.’” On professional inspo “Travel is like an anthropological study—take, for example, the trends that come from Korea. We asked Korean women why the cushion compact is so important for them. We found out it was because many Korean women want to look perfect all day, so it’s really about good touch-ups throughout the day rather than this cool technology. Spending time in the market helps you understand so much.”

Melissa Knapp, senior vice-president, global creative
On personal inspo
“I’ve been rediscovering New York. I’ll spend a day in, say, Tokyo just roaming around and getting lost. But when do I ever do that in New York? I’m just going from point A to point B. So I realized it’s not because there is nothing in New York; it’s just that I’m not taking the time to stop and be inspired by the city I live in.” On professional inspo “I guess you’d say ‘All right, our customer is our inspiration,’ but people in general are my inspiration—just getting out and being on the ground, engaging myself in culture and things like that. That’s where I find all my inspiration. It’s definitely not sitting at my desk all day staring out the window.”

Janet Pardo, senior vice-president, product development
On personal inspo
“Right now I am thinking about blueberries! They are the healthiest thing you can eat. The thought process is how do you get inspiration from things like this? I am not a good cook – I stink at it. But I have a lot of friends who are amazing chefs, and they have exposed me to wonderful things. I am interested in knowing why certain crops grow better at night. Why is that? I’m intrigued by things like that.” On professional inspo “My whole approach is about going outside the industry. I don’t knock anybody off – I’m not into that. I go to painting shows, to art shops. I’m motivated by things that could reinvent something or create something new.”

SHARE YOUR OWN INSPIRING IDEA & WIN $20,000 Enter your idea in the Clinique Smart Ideas contest by September 30, 2015. The winner will receive US$20,000 in funding, a trip to the TEDWomen 2016 conference with Clinique and will be featured in a short film about her idea. If you need a little more idea-generating inspo, watch video profiles of entrepreneurs and TED Influencers Erin Bagwell (a documentary filmmaker), Jane Chen (the co-inventor of an infant warmer for the developing world) and Jessica Matthews (the creator of a soccer ball that generates clean energy).

Top 3 must-watch talks from day 1 of TEDWomen 2015

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Beauty spotlight: Clinique