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.