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.