Steve Humble: The Innovation Interview

Steve Humble, President & Founder of Creative Home Engineering shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and hidden passageways.

Creative Home Engineering is a one-of-a-kind engineering firm that specializes in the design and fabrication of ultra-secret motorized hidden passageways and vault doors in elite homes around the world.

Steve’s services have been sought out by International Heads of State, Celebrities, Professional Athletes, and Corporate CEOs the world over. He has provided secret passageways and hidden vault doors in some of the world’s most high profile residences including royal palaces and the private residences of the ultra-wealthy.

Steve founded Creative Home Engineering in 2004. Prior to that he gained experience working in various engineering disciplines including the designing surgical lasers, robotic test equipment, home automation computers and in process engineering at Boeing Aircraft. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Brigham Young University.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is doing something new – something that none of your predecessors did – probably because they thought it sounded too crazy. Yes, perhaps you are a genius and you saw and acted upon something that no one else saw or acted upon, but I think more often it comes from the simple ability to free one’s self from preconceived and accepted ideas in one’s past.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

I noticed that many of the others who were interviewed before me said that their own industry needs to embrace innovation. I don’t feel that way at all about any aspect of my engineering career. In fact, just the opposite – in all my professional experience I’ve been surrounded by bright people eager and open for change and improvement, even in the face of uncertain results. In that regard I think engineers make for a sharp contrast to those I know from other aspects of life, who in my experience tend to be far more resistant to change.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

From a young age my father instilled in me a love for honesty. I’m so glad he did that because running a business includes lots of temptation to make more money by operating in the grey area. In the most stressful moments, the knowledge that my integrity and good name remain fully intact has really seemed to lower the stakes. It makes the thought of failure a lot less scary. I can deal with failure if it ever comes to that as long as I still have my honor and my reputation. As a side benefit it has proven to be great for business – my personal reputation has become one of my company’s most valuable assets.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

In the professional arena I’m known for creating an industry where there was none, and I’m a little proud of that. Before I started Creative Home Engineering, if you wanted a secret passageway like what you may have seen in the movies – too bad -it simply wasn’t available. In the grand scheme of things I’m not sure if that is nearly as important as some of the things that I’m doing in my personal life like raising my kids.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital all the way. As far as I am concerned paper is obsolete technology. If you’re going to send me some paper you might as well bring it over on your horse and buggy.

Where does your fascination with secret passages stem from and why did you decide to make it a business?

Like every kid, I always thought that secret passageways were fascinating and imagined one day owning a home with lots of them. But I never fantasized about building them. It wasn’t until after working as an engineer in industry, and craving an exit from existence in a cubicle, that I realized that I could take the leap into the unknown and make a business out of it.

How has Creative Home Engineering evolved as the needs and trends of home buyers have changed over the years? Are you seeing an increase in panic rooms and/or speciality vaults for high-profile / risk individuals?

Actually, there has been a significant trend. When I started this a decade ago the majority of my clientele wanted secret rooms for their kids to play in, and to make their home more fun for showing off to the neighbors. But as my reputation grew and as the world changed, I found that I had more and more clients with serious security concerns in mind. Lately high-security projects account for the great majority of my work – but it is still fun to make secret passageways now and again for fun that will be shown off and make all the neighborhood kids jealous.

In the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark there was a scene at Brunwald Castle in Austria in which the fireplace spins to reveal a hidden room. Have scenes in movies similar to this one been a large part of Creative Home Engineering’s business in which clients request similar hidden passages or openings to undisclosed rooms?

Yes. In fact that very scene inspired our first rotating fireplace passageway. For that matter, the vast majority the projects we’ve ever done have been inspired by movies and TV shows. Clients still come to me asking for something similar to what they’ve seen in a movie and we’re thrilled to oblige.

Have you developed and installed any secret passages that use Google Glass or a wearable technology to open the hidden passage?

The secret switches are really one of the funnest parts of the job. I love it when a client has some unique collection or hobby and they ask us to make a unique secret switch that has personal significance to them. Of course we’ve made secret doors that open using inputs from mobile devices, and if a client requests a Google Glass specific triggering device we’ll make it happen for them. Personally, I’m partial to some of the more classic James Bond or even scooby-doo style triggering devices.

Besides building secret passages on land, has Creative Home Engineering built any on a boat, submarine or airplane?

We’ve been approached to do a few projects on yachts, but so far nothing has materialized. We did make one for an RV once. But one of the perks of this job is that it is never the same thing twice. I’m sure it won’t be long before I’ll answer yes to that question and a dozen even crazier ones.