September 20, 2009

Time is More Valuable than Money

Most people look at their bank accounts with great attention and assess how much money they have to spend, to invest, and to give away… But, they don’t look at their time the same way, and end up wasting this incredibly valuable resource. In fact, time is much more valuable than money because you can use your time to make money, but you can’t use money to purchase more time.

Time is the great equalizer… Each day has only 24 hours - nobody has any more than anyone else. Everyone, from poets to presidents, fills those hours, one after the other, until they are all filled up. Every single minute is unique, and once gone, can never be regained.

When you look at someone who has accomplished a lot, you can be pretty sure that he or she has spent considerable amounts of time mastering the required skills, filling hours upon hours with hard work. There are those who look at others’ accomplishments and say, “I had that idea, “ or “I could have done that.” But ideas are cheap and intentions are just that. If you don’t invest the time needed to achieve those goals then all you have are empty ambitions.

People often say, “I don’t have the time to…” Fill in the blank with whatever you like: exercise, make dinner, write a book, start a company, run for political office. What makes these people think that they have less time than anyone else? Of course they don’t. We all have the same 24 hours in each day and make real decisions about how we spend them. If you really want to get in shape, then carve out time to exercise. If you want to write a book, then pick up a pen and do it. And, if you want to run for president, then get started. It isn’t going to happen if you plan your day around your favorite TV shows or spend hours updating your Facebook page. These are entertaining distractions that eat up your irreplaceable time.

I teach a course on creativity and innovation at Stanford University. During a workshop on how to brainstorm I often give the following prompt: There aren’t enough hours in a day. Come up with creative solutions to this dilemma. The brainstorming results in a an endless list of solutions – from the practical to the preposterous – demonstrating that there are lots of ways to extract more from each hour, each day, and each year. Some of the most interesting solutions involve figuring out how to do two things at once. I know many people who have successfully incorporated this approach into their own lives.

For instance, I met a woman named Audrey Carlson several years ago who was struggling to figure out how to spend time with her friends and take care of her growing family. She started a group called “Chop and Chat.” Every Sunday six friends got together to cook at a member’s home. Each member brought the ingredients to make a different recipe that was then split into six portions. Members took home six different main courses for the week. Chop and Chat was an inventive way for the women to cook together, socialize, and prepare meals for their families.

Another example is venture capitalist Fern Mandelbaum. You would assume that meetings with Fern take place in her office… and you’d be wrong. Fern is an avid athlete and her meetings take place on hiking paths. Everyone who knows Fern knows to wear walking shoes and carry a bottle of water to their meetings in anticipation of a strenuous hike. Fern finds that this strategy is a great way to get to know each entrepreneur while also getting exercise.

There is an oft-quoted saying that "time is money." You can interpret this to mean that time is a valuable currency. In fact, each day another 24 hours is deposited into each of our “bank accounts.” We get a choice about how to spend these hours. We decide how much we spend right away, how much gets invested for the future, and how much we give away. The worst choice is to waste these hours by letting them slip away.

It is almost noon, and I have 12 more hours to invest today!

August 21, 2009

Life is an the Ultimate Open Book Exam

In most schools, students are evaluated as individuals and graded on a curve relative to their classmates. In short, when they win someone else loses. Not only is this stressful, but it isn’t how most organizations work in the real world. Outside of school, people usually work on a team with a shared goal, and when they win so does everyone else. In fact, in the business world there are usually small teams embedded inside larger teams, and at every level the goal is to make everyone successful.

The typical classroom also has a teacher who views his or her job as pouring information into the students’ brains. The door to the room is closed and the chairs are bolted to the floor, facing the teacher. Students take careful notes, knowing they will be tested on the material later. For homework they are asked to read assigned material from a textbook and quietly absorb it on their own. This couldn’t be any more different from life after college, where you are your own teacher, charged with figuring out what you need to know, where to find the information, and how to absorb it. In fact, real life is the ultimate open book exam. The doors are thrown wide open, allowing you to draw on endless resources around you as you tackle open-ended problems related to work, family, friends, and the world at large. Carlos Vignolo, a masterful professor at the University of Chile, told me that he provocatively suggests that students take classes from the worst teachers in their school because this will prepare them for life, where they won’t have talented educators leading the way.

Additionally, in large classes, students are typically given multiple-choice tests with one right answer for every question, and the bubbles must be carefully filled in with number two pencils to make for easy grading. In sharp contrast, in most situations outside of school there are a multitude of answers to every question, many of which are correct in some way. And, even more important, it is acceptable to fail. In fact, failure is an important part of life’s learning process. Just as evolution is a series of trial-and-error experiments, life is full of false starts and inevitable stumbling. The key to success is the ability to extract the lessons out of each of these experiences and to move on with that new knowledge.

For most people, the world is quite different than a typical classroom. There isn’t one right answer that leads to a clear reward, and facing the wall of choices in front of each of us can be quite overwhelming. Although family, friends, and neighbors will happily give us pointed advice about what to do, it is essentially our responsibility to pick our own direction. But it is helpful to know that we don’t have to be right the first time. Life beyond school presents each of us with many opportunities to experiment and recombine our skills and passions in new and surprising ways.

July 28, 2009

FAIL in order to SUCCEED

I require my students to write a failure résumé. That is, to craft a résumé that summarizes all their biggest screw ups — personal, professional, and academic. For every failure, each student must describe what he or she learned from that experience. Just imagine the looks of surprise this assignment inspires in students who are so used to showcasing their successes. However, after they finish their résumé, they realize that viewing their experiences through the lens of failure forced them to come to terms with the mistakes they have made along the way and to extract important lessons from them. In fact, as the years go by, many former students continue to keep their failure résumé up-to-date, in parallel with their traditional résumé of successes.

A failure resume is a quick way to demonstrate that failure is an important part of our learning process, especially when you’re stretching your abilities, doing things the first time, or taking risks. We hire people who have experience not just because of their successes but also because of their failures. Failures increase the chance that you won’t make the same mistake again. Failures are also a sign that you have taken on challenges that expand your skills. In fact, many successful people believe that if you aren’t failing sometimes then you aren’t taking enough risks. Additionally, it is pretty clear that the ratio of our successes and failure is pretty constant. So, if you want more successes, you are going to have to tolerate more failure along the way.

This is a great video clip of Randy Komisar talking about the role of failure in success... It is a favorite on the ECorner web site.

July 26, 2009

Brainstorming Rules: What TO DO and What NOT TO DO...

These two short videos are priceless! They were created by students at the Stanford Design Institute. The first one shows how NOT to brainstorm and the second one shows HOW to do it effectively. They picked a fanciful problem to solve - saving your chewing gum when you go to class.

The worst case example happens all the time. In fact, I was at a meeting last week with people with whom I don't normally work, and we were "brainstorming" about a new program. One person made a suggestion, and someone else literally responded with, "Go shoot yourself." For anyone who has spent any time polishing their brainstorming skills, they know that the FIRST rule is to defer judgment. This was a great, real life example of how NOT to do it.

Here is a video summary of what NOT to do:

Here is a video summary of what TO DO:


- Defer judgment
- Capture all the ideas
- Encourage wild ideas
- One conversation at a time
- Build on other people's ideas
- Be visual - use words and pictures
- Use headlines to summarize ideas
- Go for volume - the more ideas the better!

July 24, 2009

The "Rule Breakers" Career Guide

The is an interview from the new BNET blog, Entry-Level Rebel. Enjoy...

Tina, what’s one widely held belief about career progress that you think young people would do well to disregard?

Most young people believe that their career path should progress at a predictable rate, with ever increasing responsibilities and compensation. That usually isn’t — and shouldn’t be — the case. I like the analogy that Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo!, used when she spoke at Stanford a few years ago. She said that you should look at the progress of your career as moving around and up a three dimensional pyramid as opposed to up a two dimensional ladder. Lateral moves along the side of the pyramid allow you to build a base of experience. It may not look as though you are moving up quickly, but you are gaining a foundation of skills, experience, and contacts that will prove extremely valuable later. Additionally, there are often times when you slide backward. Don’t despair: Your recovery after a failure often propels you forward more quickly than if you stayed on a linear, predictable path.

What advice would you give to a young person who has discovered that what they studied, or what they thought they wanted to do, isn’t really for them? How should they approach shifting direction?

It is both exciting and scary to make right angle turns in your career. The good news is that you continue to build your base of experience as you shift between different disciplines. I started out as a neuroscientist and assumed that I would build a career doing research. I soon learned that I was not cut out for a career behind a lab bench. During my job search I ended up getting an informational interview with a management consulting firm. My hope was that they would introduce me to some of their life-science clients. When I walked in the room I was asked how a background in neuroscience prepared me for a job in consulting. I could have told them the truth — that I hadn’t considered a job as a consultant — but decided to wing it. I outlined all the similarities between management consulting and brain research … and was offered a job later that day! I have learned again and again that the core skills needed to be successful are consistent between fields and that the more you polish those basic skills — such as communication, leadership, analysis, and creative problem-solving — the more successful you will be.

Any suggestions for young people who don’t know what they want to do or what their true passion is?

I have heard this from many young people. I believe that it is really hard to find your passions when you have always followed “the rules.” That is, when you have been programmed to do exactly what others want you to so. It makes sense that after years of responding to what others expect, that you have no idea what really drives you. This happened to me, too. In fact, I was so frustrated by always doing what others wanted me to do that soon after I started graduate school, I chose to take some time off…. I moved across the country to Santa Cruz, California, and decided to be a leaf in the wind for a while. My family was shocked and disappointed. But, in retrospect, it was one of the best things I have ever done. I was finally able to see what I wanted to do when I got up in the morning. I was able to uncover my own skills and interests. And, I was able to experiment with new things that weren’t on the prescribed path. By giving myself the space to figure out what I was passionate about, I became internally motivated — as opposed to externally motivated — and have never looked back.

What’s one practical thing the low man (or woman) on the office totem pole can do at work tomorrow to make their lives easier or better?

When you get to the office tomorrow, take a few minutes to figure out what you can do to make other people successful. Ask someone what you can do for them? It is easy to do and pays off a hundred times over. By making other people successful, you inspire them to want to make you succeed. You never know when you will need a small — or big — favor, and by paving the way by helping others, it is much more likely that others will help you when you need it most.

Your latest book is entitled What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World. So the inevitable question: if you could go back and give your 20-year-old self just one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell myself that the uncertainty of life never goes away. There are always choices in front of you, challenges to overcome, and failures from which you need to recover. If you embrace the challenges and view them through the lens of possibilities, then you will not only be happier, but will be much more likely to turn the inevitable obstacles into opportunities. The world is always changing, and it is up to you to be flexible and optimistic. With a positive attitude and creative thinking, most problems can be viewed as opportunities in disguise.

July 21, 2009

What do YOU wish you knew when you were 20?

Four years ago, when he turned sixteen, it dawned on me that my son, Josh would be heading to college in only two years. I wanted to share with him what I wished I had known when I left home and when I started my career. So, I created a growing list of things I now know are critically important in making one’s place in the world. This document resided on the desktop of my computer and whenever I remembered another lesson, I added it to the list. A few months after I started this project, I was asked to give a talk to students in a business leadership program at Stanford and decided to use these insights for inspiration. I crafted a talk called “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20,” in which I wove together these concepts with short video clips of entrepreneurial thought leaders who amplified these ideas. This talk eventually turned into a book by the same name.

My original list included things such as turn problems into opportunities, make your own luck, try lots of things and keep what works, and don't burn bridges. I invite you to add your own lessons to the list... What do YOU wish you knew when you were 20?

July 16, 2009

What is Creativity?

This six minute video clip of Stanford Professor Bob Sutton is one of the most popular on the STVP ECorner web site. Bob gives fabulous examples of the power of looking at old things in new ways, and recombining existing ideas, when trying come up with something completely new.

Five Minutes of Fame

This is a short segment from View from the Bay on ABC TV. The best part was meeting all the interesting folks in the green room.

July 15, 2009

The Art of Teaching Entrepreneurship and Innovation

If you can't find a way to come to one of my talks, or if you want a preview, you can watch the video of a talk I gave at Stanford this past May as part of our Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar series. I am usually one of the hosts, but my colleagues indulged me by letting give a talk about my new book. I hope you enjoy it!

Talks coming up...

For those who are interested in the multimedia version of my book, I have a few speaking gigs coming up in San Francisco... Tomorrow night (July 16) I will be presenting a multimedia talk at an event that is co-hosted by Girls in Tech and Bay Area Women in Film and Media. The doors open at 6:30 and the event starts at 7:00 PM. Here is a link to the program information.

Also, next week (July 21) I will be speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. The doors open at 5:30 and the talk starts at 6:00 PM. Details can be found here.

If you want a preview, I will be on TV on Thursday, July 16. Check out View From The Bay (ABC-7) from 3 - 4 PM. To see the entire program for that day, check out this site.

June 27, 2009

Radio Time... on

On Monday, June 29 at 2PMET/11AMPT, I will be on the live internet radio show, The show is called Positive Living and is hosted by Patricia Raskin.

Here is the press release....

Join nationally recognized, multi-media radio talk show host and award-winning producer Patricia Raskin, host of the Positive Living radio show on on Monday June 29 at 2PMET/11AMPT, when she interviews Tina Seelig, author, winner of the 2009 Gordon Prize from the National Academy of Engineering, and executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP). STVP is the entrepreneurship center at Stanford’s School of Engineering dedicated to accelerating high-technology entrepreneurship education and creating scholarly research on technology-based firms. She will discuss her newest book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World, which focuses on challenging assumptions, breaking the "rules", leveraging limited resources, and creatively tapping into one's entrepreneurial spirit to make things happen.

Don't miss this live interview with Tina Seelig, on Monday, June 29 at 2PMET/11AMPT on or on-demand any time and anywhere at

Visit Patricia Raskin - the national powerhouse of Positive Living talk radio at

June 17, 2009

My Favorite (27 second) Video Clip of all Time

Over the years we have built a large collection of video clips and podcasts of entrepreneurs, VCs, and other luminaries who speak at Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leader seminar series. But, one clip always sticks out as my favorite. It is only 27 seconds long, but captures the essence of entrepreneurship. It is Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and a successful venture capitalist, filmed in 2002. In this clip, Vinod talks about turning problems into opportunities. I show this clip in almost every talk I give and at the beginning of every class I teach. I hope you will enjoy it, too. And, remember, every big problem is a big opportunity... if you don't have a big problem, you don't have a big opportunity.

June 10, 2009

Jeff Hawkins... My Creative Hero!

As mentioned in an earlier blog posting, Jeff Hawkins is one of my heroes. He is the founder of Palm Computing, Handspring, and most recently, Numenta. He is a self-taught neuroscientist and wrote a terrific book that summarizes his theories about how the brain works, called On Intelligence. If you are interested in hearing all about Jeff's newest venture and his incredible career path, definitely check out his podcast here, at STVP's Entrepreneurship Corner web site...

Also, here is a five minute video clip from the talk in which Jeff describes some of the failures that accompanied his grand successes...

May 30, 2009

Guy Kawasaki interviews me....

  1. Question: How does making stuff out of rubber bands and paper clips over the span of a few days transfer to the reality of the long-lasting grind of innovating, marketing, and supporting products?

    Answer: In the exercise you’re referring to students are given a handful of paperclips or rubber bands and are challenged to create as much value as possible in only a few days. Value can be measured in any way they like. The lessons they learn are priceless: They realize that there are opportunities everywhere, that they can easily leverage limited resources, and that they can create real value in only a few days.Also, they experience the power of rapid prototyping, effective teamwork, and how to execute on a plan. It is amazing to see the range of solutions from teams from around the world. This exercise reinforces the idea that life is the ultimate open-book exam—the doors are thrown wide open, which allows you to draw on endless resources to tackle open-ended problems in creative ways.

  2. Question: But what makes you think that the companies have wide-open doors, endless resources, and open-ended problems?

    Answer: It is up to each individual to see it that way. Most jobs involve projects that don’t have one right answer. It is up to each individual to discover the best solutions using whatever resources they can find. These solutions don’t have to cost a lot of money. They often involve identifying other people who can help, leveraging work that has been done before, or combining ideas in new and interesting ways.This is just as true for a CEO as it is for engineers, sales people, lawyers, teachers, chefs, and even babysitters. We often limit ourselves by not seeing all the resources in our midst. However, those who do see that the doors really are wide open, who can reframe problems, and who can creatively draw upon the endless resources in their midst are much more successful in both the short run and the long run.

  3. Question: How should a college student decide what to study?

    Answer: When I started college I was a pre-med student. Right after I got to college I asked a girl in my dorm if she would help me with a calculus problem. She refused, saying that if she helped me, I would get into med school, and she wouldn’t. She was so focused on her long-term goals that she wasn’t able to engage in everyday relationships. That was a huge wake-up call. I was forced to rethink my plans and realized that I should do what interests me and figure out the things that I do best instead of staying on a pre-planned path that might lead me somewhere I didn’t want to go. Now I encourage students to do the same thing—that is, spend time trying lots of different things so that they can see where their passions take them and where they can really shine.

  4. Question: What should a college student look for in a first job?

    Answer: The most important thing to remember is that your first job probably won’t even be on your resume in a few years. With that in mind, it makes sense to take a job that will put you in a position to learn as much as possible. Don’t be worried about the title or the salary and focus on with whom you will be working. Remember—and this is important—that when you get a job, you are not getting THAT job, but the keys to the building. Once you are inside, you will find endless ways to expand your role, to build your credibility, and to excel.

  5. Question: What should a person do in her first week on the job?

    Answer: I wish someone had told this to me when I was getting out of school. You should spend the first weeks on a job figuring out what is really going on. The stated culture of an organization is often quite different from the real culture. And formal titles don’t necessarily reflect real influence in the company. Also, use the first few weeks to set the tone for your working style. People will draw conclusions about you very quickly, and you will want those conclusions to be accurate. Finally, figure out if there is someone who might be willing to be an informal mentor—someone you can go to to ask for help, especially at the beginning when it isn’t clear how the organization really works.

  6. Question: Is there anything you “knew” at twenty that turned out to be still true?

    Answer: I was a kid who never liked to follow the rules. Other people make rules for you to make life easier for them not for you. For example, when you ask someone how to get into graduate school, make a movie, write a book, or run for political office, they will give you a recipe with a set of incremental steps that gets you closer to the goal. However, many people who have successfully reached those goals have followed a completely different path. If you really want to accomplish something, there is usually a creative way to get there even if the traditional path is blocked.

  7. Question: What’s the biggest thing that you “knew” at twenty that turned out to be wrong?

    Answer: When I was twenty I beat myself up whenever I made a mistake. I thought that I had to do things correctly the first time and spent a lot of time agonizing about what I should have done. In fact, if you aren’t making mistakes, then you aren’t taking enough risks. I was comfortable taking risks, but wasn’t comfortable with the inevitable failures along the way. Now I realize that mistakes are part of the learning process. Now when I make a mistake, I add it to my “failure resume” and figure out what I should do differently the next time.

  8. Question: What’s the best analogy that describes a career?

    Answer: I like the analogy that Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo!, used when she spoke at Stanford a few years ago. She said that you should look at the progress of your career as moving around and up a three dimensional pyramid as opposed to up a two dimensional ladder. Lateral moves along the side of the pyramid allow you to build a base of experience. It may not look as though you are moving up quickly, but you are gaining a foundation of skills, experience, and contacts that will prove extremely valuable later.

  9. Question: When should a company give up on a product or service?

    Answer: This is always a hard question. We all know that in order to be successful you have to put in an enormous effort, and many people work for years before their ventures look like overnight successes. Even when others suggest that it is time to cut your loses, you know that with more time you will be able to make it work. However, this can only happen when you are completely committed. If you have lost your passion, it is time to quit. Without a strong drive to succeed, there is no way you will have the energy to ultimately reach escape velocity.

  10. Question: What is the key to leading people?

    Answer: From my experience, one key to leading others is to “paint the target around the arrow.” That is surround yourself with really sharp people—arrows—and make sure that they are doing what they do best. If you empower really talented people to do what they do best, then astonishing things happen. Everyone feels that they are doing the easy job and truly appreciate what everyone else is contributing. Also, figure out what motivates each individual on your team. With that knowledge you can put incentives in place that encourage each person to deliver their best.

  11. Question: What’s the best way to fix mistakes?

    Answer: It is important to correct mistakes quickly. The longer they linger, the bigger they get. As mentioned above, I tend to take lots of risks, and therefore have had lots of opportunities to correct my errors. I find the best approach is to acknowledge the error and move on. If possible, find a way to quickly demonstrate that you have learned from the experience.

  12. Question: What is the secret to successful negotiation?

    Answer: Make sure that you understand the other person’s point of view. If you make assumptions, you will very likely be wrong. When I bought a car for my son. I assumed that the salesperson wanted us to pay the highest price. That wasn’t the case! After asking a bunch of questions, I learned that his commission wasn’t based on the price of the car—it was based on the scores he got on the customer evaluation form we filled out afterward. Of course, I was happy to give him a great score in return for a great price. This is how win-win negotiations come about.

  13. Question: How does one balance work and “life”?

    Answer: You copied a quote from my book into one of your recent blogs. That quote, attributed to the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, is very powerful.

    “The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”

    This is what we should all aspire to—having work that enriches our lives and lives that enrich our work. On the path to this perfect balance, it is best to pick three things that are most important to you and focus on them. This list will change as your priorities change and is a reminder that you can do it all—just not at the same time.

Whatz Your Problem?

As we head towards graduation, I have been asked to speak in several classes at Stanford to talk with students about life after school. After sharing some stories about my career path, I decided to do an experiment... I asked the students to write down the biggest problems they are currently facing so that together we could try to solve their problems by turning them into opportunities.

Each student instantly pulled out a sheet of paper and started writing. After a few minutes I asked them to pass them to the front of the room. The problems were all anonymous. As I started reading them, I was shocked and amazed by the problems they wrote down. In retrospect, I'm not sure what I expected, but it was certainly not what I received...

Some problems were written in bold letters (I NEED A JOB) and others were written in tiny letters that were nearly impossible to read (I want a boyfriend). They were scrawled as a quickly crafted list with dozens of existential questions or they were written with an unsteady hand (I am not motivated). It was clear that these big, bold questions are looming in these students minds.

After doing this exercise in a few classes, the patterns started to emerge. Clearly, even after receiving an education at a top tier university, a large number of students are struggling to figure out what they want to do with their lives. And, of course, the gloomy economic environment isn't making life easier. They are finding, as generations before them have, that life after college is filled with zillions of questions without a right answer. While in school, students live a life that is cut up into quarters or semesters with a nice long summer break. They are given specific assignments and receive a grade at the end of each one. They know if they have done well or not. But, life beyond college is quite different. It is the ultimate open-book exam. In fact, after school, we are the students AND the teacher, creating the tests ourselves. Nobody gives us a text book or a course reader, and the comforting rhythm of semesters and summer breaks is gone. In fact, a colleague of mine in Chile provocatively tells his students that they should take courses from the worst professors at their school since this will prepare them better for life where they won't have a talented teacher showing them the way.

In the classes this quarter we organized all the questions into categories and spent as much time as needed addressing all the concerns. Students stayed long past the allotted class time to think about these problems in creative ways. One of the benefits of this public discussion was that the students all realized that each of them was facing similar challenges. They are all going out into the unknown and need to learn a brand new set of skills, including how to motivate themselves, how to make decisions with incomplete information, and how to embrace the uncertainty on the path ahead.

May 28, 2009

Teaching Entrepreneurship and Innovation

This is a podcast from yesterday's Entrepreneurial Thought Leader seminar about how we teach entrepreneurship and innovation. Enjoy!

May 19, 2009

Surprising Outcome!

Today I ran an experiment in my creativity class.... The theme of the class was "creativity versus control." Essentially, my goal was to let the students experience what it feels like to work within an environment with different constraints. The question was, " How is innovation affected by the constraints in the environment." I spend a bunch of time in advance thinking about the "perfect" environment - one with the optimum balance of creativity and control. I came up with the idea of using the game of Scrabble...

Scrabble is a perfect model: The board is very structured and there are clear incentives in place. You are encouraged to build out from the center to the edges so that you can reach the squares that earn you a triple letter score. Along the way, you are rewarded with smaller, but still valuable, rewards. So, I brought in eight Scrabble boards and let the students play... Then, every ten minutes I changed the rules of the game. Some of the new rules loosened the rules, and some tightened them up. For example, I might allow them to pick nine letters instead of seven, to use proper names, or foreign words. Or, I might require them to create only four letter words, to add each new word to the prior word, or limit the time they had to add a word to the board.

The results were completely surprising! Whenever I loosened the rules there was an audible cheer! And, when I tightened the rules they groaned. So, you would think that they were more creative when the rules were looser. That is NOT the case! They were more creative - and earned more points - when they had tighter rules. When they had stricter rules they had to be more creative and the players ended up working together to help each other out. They even earned MORE points when the rules appeared to limit their options.

This was a huge AH HA! for all of us.... But, in the end, they all felt that the original rules were perfect and that is why the game has thrived so long. But, they also realized how changing the rules just a small amount dramatically changed their experience. They walked away with a new appreciation for the sensitive levers they have at their disposal when they manage creative teams. They realized that they should fully appreciate the goals they have in mind and put incentives in place to inspire others to reach them. They also learned that even when others think the constraints are too harsh, sometimes those constraints actually stimulate innovation.

May 11, 2009

The Making of Entrepreneur

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft came to speak at Stanford. Check out this video of the talk... He discusses his early career, his optimism for emerging innovation in the midst of economic turmoil, and the story of his own entrepreneurial path. He also speaks of his company's continued investment in Internet-ready hardware and software that seeks progress in healthcare, education, and science.

SJ Mercury News Profile

The San Jose Mercury New ran a profile piece on me yesterday... It is pasted below.

The Mercury News Interview:
Tina Seelig, executive director
Stanford Technology Ventures Program

By Scott Duke Harris

Stanford entrepreneurship professor Tina Seelig jokes that as a schoolgirl she nearly flunked a home-economics class "after blowing up a chocolate pudding."

Years later, after earning a doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine, she decided to write a book about the chemistry of cooking. "I knew in great depth what was happening in my lab, but not what was happened in my kitchen," she explains. "Once I learned, I had many fewer disasters in my kitchen."

In 1991, frustrated by the way books like hers were marketed, Seelig founded a company called BookBrowser, which placed computer kiosks in bookstores to help readers in the age before Amazon.

Today, Seelig teaches students about turning problems into opportunities as executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, where about 1,500 students each year from various majors learn skills in entrepreneurship.

She and professor Tom Byers, the program's founder and curriculum director, were recently honored with the 2009 Gordon Prize from the National Academy of Engineering, recognizing their contributions to engineering education.

Quick with a laugh, Seelig recently distilled her life lessons in her latest book, "What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World," recently released by HarperCollins.

The following is an account of a recent conversation with the Mercury News,
edited to provide clarity and context.

Q In 1999, when you joined the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Stanford could already claim roles in the creation of Google and Yahoo, as well as many older tech firms. How has the environment for entrepreneurship changed over the last 10 years?

A We were just a tiny little program. The program was in its infancy relative to what it is now.

Then, in 1999, when you told people you were teaching entrepreneurship to engineers, they said, "Why?" Now I don't have to answer that question. People say, "How?"

The world has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Our students are hungry to know how to get their ideas out of their heads and out of their labs, and into the real world. And that's entrepreneurship.

Q So how do you teach entrepreneurship?

A One of the things I talk about in my book is creating T-shaped people. This means people with a great depth of knowledge in at least one discipline, like chemical engineering or biology, and a breadth of knowledge across many skills. Across the top of the T are a knowledge of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

It's no longer good enough to be an individual contributor where you have a clearly defined role. You need to be able to work across disciplines. Our classes range from traditional business topics such as strategy, finance and marketing, but also focus on leadership, dealing with innovation and negotiation — the softer skills that are very, very important. So it's about management and leadership.

Students shouldn't have to feel they need an MBA to learn these skills. One thing to keep in mind about Stanford is that the Graduate School of Business is terrific, but they don't offer courses to undergrads. And Stanford doesn't have an undergraduate business major. So this is a wonderful opportunity for us.

Q Stanford students tend to be overachievers. How do you teach the Silicon Valley gospel about the value of failure?

A Failure is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley. To prove this point, I have my students write failure résumés. After reading an early draft of my book, one of my students asked what a failure résumé looks like. In response, I added my own personal failure résumé in my book. I include many of my biggest mistakes, personal, professional and academic.

Every leader in every organization has made big mistakes. That's why we hire people with experience — we want them because of their successes and for what they have learned from their failures.

Q But aren't some people just "born entrepreneurs." Can it really be taught and learned?

A There are some people who are natural entrepreneurs, but it's absolutely teachable. That's what my book is about: How to see the world as opportunity-rich, and see problems as opportunities.

Q The title of the book speaks to regrets and brings to mind that line about innocence lost in a Bob Seger song: "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then." If someone had given your book to you when you were 20, and you took it to heart, how do you think your life would be different?

A I would give myself more permission to take risks. I would be much less fearful of failure. I would be very comfortable taking a different route than other people take. I would know that I am responsible for making my own luck.

I used to think, the harder you work, the luckier you get — that's what my father said. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

You need to be incredibly observant, you need to be optimistic, you need to be fully engaged in the world. One of my favorite quotes is, "If you go somewhere and do not meet someone new, you missed out on an opportunity." This book grew directly from a conversation I had sitting next to someone on a plane.

Q A publisher?

A Yes. But that conversation was the start of a two-year process.



Position: Executive director, Stanford Technology Ventures Program

Education: Ph.D., neuroscience, Stanford School of Medicine

Previous jobs: scientist, entrepreneur, multimedia producer, author



1. She has authored several popular science books, including "The Epicurean Laboratory" and "Incredible Edible Science."

2. Her son"s childhood interest in magic and baseball cards inspired her to create a line of games called Games For Your Brain.

3. Her past employers include Compaq and the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

4. She recently twittered about "Startup Love: An article I wrote for eHarmony about the parallels between starting a company and a new romance."

5. Her son attends Stanford rival USC.

May 5, 2009

Truly Inspiring!

I was in Chicago this past weekend and made a point to go to Moto. In fact, you could say that I accepted an invitation to go to Chicago so that I could go to Moto...

As I discuss in my book, instead of using traditional cooking techniques, a handful of chefs are experimenting with “molecular gastronomy,” which involves stretching the limits of cooking in all sorts of creative and unusual directions. These restaurants use equipment and materials straight out of a laboratory and play with your senses in wild ways. At Moto, the kitchen is stocked with balloons, syringes, and dry ice, and the goal is to create food that is shocking yet tasty. They have a “tasting menu,” where you actually eat the menu, which might, for example, taste like an Italian panini sandwich. Moto strives to break the rules with each dish they serve, from “delivering” food that looks like packing peanuts to the table in FedEx boxes to making a dessert that looks like nachos but is really made up of chocolate, frozen shredded mango, and cheesecake. Each dish is designed to push the boundary of how you imagine food should look and taste as they “transmogrify” your food into surprising shapes and forms. One of their chefs, Ben Roche, says their goal is to create a circus for your senses. They question every assumption about food preparation and presentation, develop brand-new cooking techniques, and even design custom utensils that are used to consume the food.

The experience was NOT disappointing. In fact, I was blown away. The 20 course meal was remarkably inventive! My favorite concoction looked just like a big, smoking Cuban cigar in a metal ash tray. Despite my instinct to push it away, I bit into it... It was delicious! The filling was duck confit, wrapped in steamed chard, and the ashes were finely ground black and white sesame seeds. It looked exactly like a smoking cigar!

The courses kept on coming and I literally begged them to stop since I was so full... until they started on the dessert. My favorite was the Tiramiso Ice Cream Panini with Biscotti Soup. We normally dip our biscotti in coffee. But, with this dessert, you dip the coffee in the biscotti! They served a grilled ice cream sandwich with delicious pound cake filled with frozen espresso ice cream and marscapone cheese. You dipped it into an amazing biscotti flavored soup. Wow! Here is a snapshot:

I urge you to take a look at some video clips of their chefs in action.

April 28, 2009

Join the Party

If you missed the launch party for my new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, you can join the fun now!

April 26, 2009

Plane and Simple...

I had a great AHA moment in class this week... I gave a new assignment to my students and was delighted with the results.

After brainstorming about brainstorming tips and tools, I gave the students the following topic to brainstorm about: We now know that global warming is being dramatically increased by the exhaust from airplanes. Therefore, ALL commercial airplane travel has been banned. Come up with a list of all the negative consequences of have no airplane travel?

After they made long lists of the consequences, I asked each team to pick one consequence and brainstorm again. This time they had to come up with solutions to that problem. For example, if a lack of airplane travel leads to a significantly decreased ability to get people together from different parts of the world, how will you solve this problem without airplanes?

The solutions were wonderfully clever.... One team came up with the idea of moving companies to large ships that cruise in the oceans going from country to country for meetings with customers. With this solution, you don't just move the employees, you move the entire company. One team came up with the idea of building long tunnels under the oceans. With pneumatic tubes, your vehicle would fly below the sea to its destination. And another team came up with the idea of putting green houses on train cars so that fresh food can be grown and delivered to towns across the country.

The best part of the exercise was the AHA moment at the end when participants discovered that it might be a GOOD idea to ban airplanes. The solutions they came up with might actually be better than traveling by air. The first idea to pop into your mind to solve a problem - such as using an airplane to transport goods and people - isn't always the best way. If that option isn't available, there are usually lots of other options just waiting to be discovered.

April 24, 2009

Since You Asked....

Here is a list of my upcoming speaking gigs. Most are open to the public. Hope to see you there!

April 25: Stanford Women in Business conference: I Don't Know to CEO: Annenberg Hall, 10:00 AM

April 27: Stanford Bookstore, Stanford University, California (6:30 PM)

April 29: Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California (7:00 PM)

May 2: Stanford Alumni Program, Chicago, Illinois

May 4: Northwestern University - Center for Entrepreneurship

May 7–10: Stanford Creative Writing Retreat, Fallen Leaf Lake, California

May 11: Stanford Alumni Association, Marin County, California, 6:00 PM

May 15: Stanford Women's Club in San Francisco, 12:00 PM

May 20: Google Speakers Series, 12:00 PM

May 27: Entrepreneurial Thought Leader lecture, Stanford University, 4:30 PM

July 21: Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, 6:00 PM

April 22, 2009

Startup Love

I had great fun writing this article, called Startup Love, for eHarmony. They have a partnership with my publisher, HarperCollins, and wanted an article that was tied to my book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. I hope you enjoy it!


Why is starting a relationship like launching a business?
Let me count the ways...

As someone who teaches innovation and entrepreneurship at Stanford, I know a great deal about what it takes to start a new venture. And, based on the years when I changed my boyfriends like my socks, I now realize that these are the same tools that are required to launch a new relationship.

First, you need to be passionate about a new partner and a new business. Passion allows you to weather the inevitable storms that will blow through your company or your relationship. It will enable you to have the willpower to find creative solutions for the problems that will certainly arise. Without passion, we bail out when the going gets tough, as opposed to being fully committed by throwing all our clothes over a wall and then figuring out how to retrieve them.

Second, both a new venture and a new love require a significant investment of time and energy. Without the commitment of substantial resources, both will wither on the vine. If you can’t muster the time or mindshare to invest in a new relationship, don’t even consider starting. Business ideas, just like infatuations, are cheap, but real implementation in both arenas takes a tremendous amount of effort. So, take out your emotional checkbook, make sure there’s enough dough in your account, and be ready to sign on the dotted line.

Third, when you form a business or launch a new romance, you need to make sure that both partners have an equal interest in the venture. A relationship won’t thrive unless both parties have skin in the game. As with equity in companies, your stock will likely start with a low valuation, but with time and tending, it will appreciate, and both parties will enjoy a sweet return on their emotional investments. Keep in mind that love stock fluctuates in value but, like company stock, you shouldn’t be overly influenced by daily gyrations, but instead focus on creating long-term value.

Fourth, despite your rationalizing, you can’t be involved in two or more startups or relationships at once. For all of us who have tried, we know… Each company or romance takes all your emotional and physical energy, and dividing your focus in two or three or four will doom all of them. You can flirt with lots of ideas or new romances, but once you commit, it’s a full time job. So, pick the one with the highest potential and dive on in.

Fifth, keep in mind that nothing stays the same in business or in love. As soon as you get comfortable, you can be certain that something will change. You need to be flexible and responsive as the outside world throws surprises your way. True entrepreneurs are masters of managing in a dynamic environment, and the best lovers are, too. They pay attention to the shifting landscape and find creative ways to see earthquakes as gifts as opposed to glitches.

Sixth, in both matters of the heart and matters of the mind, on average, only one-in-ten startups survive in the long run. You need to be willing to go all-in at the beginning but to be able to cut your losses when things don’t work out. Embrace the concept of failing fast and frequently. That is, try lots of things and keep what works. This is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs know that the worst outcome occurs when you inhabit the land of the living dead, where your company stumbles along, just waiting for someone to put it out of its misery. So, be willing to gracefully extract yourself when it’s clear that things won’t improve. Write off the losses on your emotional tax return, and move on to your next investment.

Finally, like successful entrepreneurs, you must to be able to bounce back quickly and begin again. There is nothing worse than wallowing in the sour soup of a lost love or a failed business. Add it to your failure resume, take time to learn from the experience, and buy a brand new pair of socks! Your next pair might just be the one that rocks your world and delivers amazing returns.

April 13, 2009

The "Million Dollar" Challenge

In my new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, I quote my friend and colleague Carlos Vignolo from the University of Chile who says, "If you go somewhere and don’t meet someone new, you have certainly missed out on making a friend as well as on the possibility of making a million dollars." He tells his students that every time they walk onto a city bus, a million dollars is waiting there for them — they just have to find it. In this case “a million dollars” is a metaphor for learning something new, making a friend, or, indeed, making a million dollars.

So, here is my challenge to you... The next time you go somewhere - the grocery store, an airport, your neighborhood restaurant, or when you ride a city bus - make a point of meeting someone new and figuring out how you can extract something valuable from that encounter. I'm confident that if you make a habit of doing this, you will find that incredible opportunities present themselves every day.

Feel free to post a comment with your experiences. It will be fascinating to see the range of responses... Perhaps someone will find a million dollars, or something worth just as much.

April 10, 2009

Slides are live...

I posted an abbreviated set of slides from my "What I Wish I Knew..." talk on Slideshare. Hope you enjoy them.

The real talk also includes about a dozen video clips that illustrate the point. I will be giving that talk several times over the next few weeks and will link to the video/podcast.

April 4, 2009

Peek inside....

You can now read the first few pages of each chapter in my new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, care of HarperCollins. The widget is not so beautiful, but it works.... Enjoy!

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

April 3, 2009

Class Act

It is the beginning of a new academic quarter and I am teaching a course on creativity and innovation. The theme of the class is that all problems are opportunities... I start out giving the students small problems and keep making them more challenging as the course progresses. All problems have no right answer and you need to stretch in different directions to find a solution. As a warm-up, yesterday we did an exercise where teams of students got to experiment using metaphors to provide new insights and inspiration. The assignment was to come up with as many answers as possible for the following:

Ideas are like ________ because___________

Here are some of the hundreds of answers they came up with...

Ideas are like babies because everyone thinks theirs is cute.

Ideas are like shoes because you need to break them in.

Ideas are like mirrors because they reflect the local environment.

Ideas are like hiccups because when they start they don’t stop.

Ideas are like bubbles because they easily burst.

Ideas are like cars because they take you places.

Ideas are like chocolates because everyone loves them.

Ideas are like the measles because they are contagious.

Ideas are like waffles because you need to throw the first ones out.

Ideas are like spider webs because they are stronger than they appear.

Do others come to mind???

April 2, 2009

A Different Kind of Hand-Out

Yesterday I was speaking at a conference in Santa Clara, called the Invent Your Future conference for women. While there I started talking with a woman who was lamenting the fact that she had started a new spa in Oakland this past June. Could there be a worse time to start a new business? Especially a business that offers luxury services... Everyone listening said, "Wow, that is BAD luck." But, instead I said, "There must be some way to turn this problem into an opportunity. I asked her about the business, the services she offered, and we came up with an idea that might just work...

I looked around and saw all these women helping each other at the conference. Why not create that type of supportive community at her spa. So, I suggested that she have a special promotion: Give a Hand and Get a Hand. If you come in at a specific time - say Tuesday evenings - then you get a half price manicure (get one hand free!) and in return spend some time at the spa helping others with their career issues (Give a hand.) This idea isn't completely "polished", but it does demonstrate that even when things seem ominous, there is usually some way to turn the problem on its head to create something of value.

Perhaps someone will try this idea... I'd love to know what happens.

March 14, 2009

What I Wish I Knew when I Was 20...

The countdown is on.... Only one month until the launch of my new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, to be released by HarperCollins on April 14. The book grew out of a talk I gave at Stanford three years ago, and was inspired by a list I started crafting for my kid when he was 16... He will turn 20 the week the book comes out. Now, that is a kick! As a teaser, here are the first few paragraphs of the book:

What would you do to earn money if all you had was five dollars
and two hours? This is the assignment I gave students in
one of my classes at Stanford University. Each of fourteen teams
received an envelope with five dollars of “seed funding” and was
told they could spend as much time as they wanted planning.
However, once they cracked open the envelope, they had two
hours to generate as much money as possible. I gave them from
Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening to complete the
assignment. Then, on Sunday evening, each team had to send
me one slide describing what they had done, and on Monday
afternoon each team had three minutes to present their project
to the class. They were encouraged to be entrepreneurial by
identifying opportunities, challenging assumptions, leveraging
the limited resources they had, and by being creative.
What would you do if you were given this challenge? When
I ask this question to most groups, someone usually shouts out,
“Go to Las Vegas,” or “Buy a lottery ticket.” This gets a big laugh.
These folks would take a significant risk in return for a
small chance at earning a big reward. The next most common
suggestion is to set up a car wash or lemonade stand, using the
fi ve dollars to purchase the starting materials. This is a fine
option for those interested in earning a few extra dollars of
spending money in two hours. But most of my students eventually
found a way to move far beyond the standard responses.
They took seriously the challenge to question traditional
assumptions—exposing a wealth of possibilities—in order to
create as much value as possible.

How did they do this? Here’s a clue: the teams that made
the most money didn’t use the five dollars at all. They realized
that focusing on the money actually framed the problem
way too tightly. They understood that five dollars is essentially
nothing and decided to reinterpret the problem more broadly:
What can we do to make money if we start with absolutely
nothing? They ramped up their observation skills, tapped into
their talents, and unlocked their creativity to identify problems
in their midst—problems they experienced or noticed others
experiencing—problems they might have seen before but had
never thought to solve. These problems were nagging but not
necessarily at the forefront of anyone’s mind. By unearthing
these problems and then working to solve them, the winning
teams brought in over $600, and the average return on the fi ve
dollar investment was 4,000 percent! If you take into account
that many of the teams didn’t use the funds at all, then their
financial returns were infinite.

So, what did they do?

March 13, 2009

Creativity and Collaboration

This is a video clip from my recent appearance on CNBC's series called, Collaboration Now. It showcases some of the projects that I do in my classes that encourage creative problem-solving and collaboration across disciplines and time zones.

January 30, 2009

Life is an Experiment

I love this video clip from our Entrepreneurship Corner collection where Tom Kelley, the author of The Art of Innovation, talks about viewing life as a series of experiments. He urges everyone to try lots of things and keep what works. Even when the experiments fail, they should propel each of us forward. Tom uses Thomas Edison as an example: He tried 10,000 different materials for light bulb filaments before finding one that worked. When asked, he said, "I haven't failed. I just found ten thousand things that do not work." Tom gives lots of other examples of wildly successful inventors who were willing to keep experimenting, and learning from failure, until they finally found the solution for which they were searching.

January 29, 2009

Entrepreneurship Week... Coming UP

Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford is just around the corner - Feb 18 - 25, 2009. This is an opportunity for all those interested in E-ship at Stanford to work together. The week includes lectures by well known folks such as John Hennessy, Tim Draper, Tony Perkins, and Michael Moe, as well as lots of workshops and panels.

I am very excited about a workshop we are hosting in which students will come dressed in their favorite James Bond character and be challenged to solve a big global problem. We will lubricate their creativity with vodka martinis - shaken not stirred. You can check out the entire program at the E-Week web site. You can also see photos from last year's E-Week here.

Here is a snapshot of the entire program:

2/18 Wednesday
Kickoff: President Hennessy on Entrepreneurial Leadership

2/19 Thursday
Panel Discussion: Careers in Product Creation & Manufacturing

2/20 Friday
Venture Capital Speed Dating

2/21 Saturday
Pitching and Presenting Workshop
Bring Your Product to Life" Workshop

2/22 Sunday
Social Enterprises Panel and Showcase

2/23 Monday
Solving the Global Talent Equation" Seminar and Reception

2/24 Tuesday
"Startup 101" Job Fair
Entrepreneurship Mixer
Creativity Challenge: James Bond Casino Caper

2/25 Wednesday
GSB Entrepreneurship Conference
"The Next Big Thing": Tim Draper, Tony Perkins & Michael Moe
Networking Reception and Showcase

January 27, 2009

Mind Bending Experience

I had a chance to participate in an awe-inspiring workshop with Elizabeth Streb at Stanford's Elizabeth is a 1997 MacArthur Fellow who focuses on stretching the boundaries of what the human body can do. The room lights up as soon as Elizabeth walks into the room... she is literally magnetic! Her goal is to challenge gravity, space, and time, and she often manages to do so.

We did a workshop in which we brainstormed and prototyped ways to move from one place to another WITHOUT moving through space... An interesting challenge! Several different teams came up with mind-bending ideas that capture the essence of moving without moving. Some teams used strobe lights, others took advantage of moving through different mediums such as oil and water, while others tapped into the power of centrifugal forces. You can watch a video of STREB in action here.

This exercise was remarkable in that it really pushed all the participants to stretch the boundaries of our thinking. I could feel my brain the next day... the same way you feel the muscles of your legs after a good run.