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Entrepreneurship with Tina Seelig of Stanford University January 9, 2006

Posted by John in Technology.
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Here is the transcript for my conversation with Tina Seelig of Stanford University’s Technology Venture Program.  I have posted the podcast on PodTech.net

Tina provides some amazing insight.  A must listen to for entrepreneurs and educators in entrepreneurship. Enjoy the transcript. 

Guest: Tina Seelig – Executive Director  Stanford Technology Ventures Program
Host:  John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Welcome to the PodTech.net InfoTalk, We’re here in Palo Alto, right outside Silicone Valley’s top institution, Stanford University with Tina Seelig; who is the Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Venture Program.  She teaches a class on creativity innovation.  Welcome back to the Podcast.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University Thank you very much.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Let’s talk about entrepreneurship and creativity and innovation, you teach that to organizations and you teach a class.  What does that mean?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University It is actually one of the most fun parts of my job, is teaching this course.  I’ve done it for the last few years.  Let me tell you a little bit about it.  The course is mostly for engineering students.  So, a course on engineering creativity innovation is somewhat unusual; and the reason that I teach this class is that most scientists and engineers in their classes have exams where there is one right answer.   But guess what?  When you get out of school, there isn’t one right answer.  Nobody tells you at the end of the day, “Gosh, you got an A on this.?  In fact in most situations, there are a zillion right answers.  You have to optimize and pick the one that you think is the best.  So this course focuses on individual creativity, creativity in teams, and creativity in organizations. 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
This is like the classic outside-the-box class.  Engineers are very buttoned up 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 very serial thinkers.  How do you break through that?  Do you just shake them up-side down?  How do you get through to them?  How do they come out of that?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University Great.  The over arching theme of the course is that every problem is an opportunity for a creative solution.  So what I do is I throw problems at them.  I throw problems at them faster than you can imagine.   First they’re extremely disoriented, because these problems certainly have no right answer.  Sometimes, it’s even a little bit difficult to interpret what the problem actually is.  As the course evolves they get more and more comfortable.  By the end of the course they’re saying, “Bring it on.  Give me more problems, the bigger the problem the better.?

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
It’s just a matter of putting them in a frame of mind then just engaging their thought process.   So it’s a real change of thinking.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University Exactly.  In fact, the goal as I said is to look at every problem as an opportunity.  One student once said to me a couple of years ago, “You know, I’ve never had problems sets that don’t have one right answer.?  I said, “Let’s not call them problem sets.  Let’s call them opportunity sets.? 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Opportunity sets, that is great.  Really it’s not that radical.  Most engineers have been struggling with this.  I have brothers who are very technical and family and friends who are geeks, and they think like that.  They’re also creative, because they are developers.  How do you get them to context switch?  Is it a matter of crossing your legs the other direction?  How do you get them to think differently?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University One of the big issues is creating a low risk environment to experiment.  Because creativity is about trying lots of things and keeping what works.  And that means your going to have a bunch of failures along the way.  What I try to do is to create an environment where there is very little to no down side to making a mistake.  It comes through the whole attitude of the course … the type of problems that are given.  And one of the other things I really try to do in the course is to make students realize that creativity doesn’t just happen in the lab.  It doesn’t just happen if you’re designing cool new products.  It happens in every single place in the organization.  If you’re putting together the incentive plan for compensation, or you’re going to negotiate a deal, or you’re just figuring out the lay out of the building; every single one of these issues is an opportunity to be creative.  Often we can look at old problems in really new ways, and to come up with some really clever solutions.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Give some examples of how an organization or an entrepreneur for that matter can implement this. Is it a system? Do you find certain practices work differently and better?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University I’ll tell you about one of the classes I do, one of the cases.  One of my favorite classes is a case I do on.  I open up the class and I show them initially a movie clip from the Marx Brothers at the circus; which is the opening scene a sort of boring tradition circus with clowns and someone being shot out of a cannon.  It’s very low key.  Then I show them a movie clip from Cirque du Soleil; and of course it’s still a circus but clearly it is something very much different and much more exciting.  So we go through the process of looking at all the assumptions one had about what a circus was, and how Cirque du Soleil went through the process of turning every one of those assumptions up side down.  OK for example, it’s not for kids, it’s for adults.  It’s not cheap seats where you make the money on the concessions.  We’re going to make expensive seats.  Expensive tickets.  We’re going to not have animals.  We’re not going to have three things going on at once.  We’re going to create a story line.  They essentially turn the entire concept of the circus upside down.  Then I would do in class.  Let’s do this with another industry.  We might take something like the fast food industry, and look at all of the assumptions that we have for the fast food industry and say what happens if we turn these up side down?  What could we do to create something new?  Then, after that the class would be broken up into teams, into small groups, where they would take all different industries and go through the same practice.  So by the end of this one class, they’ve learned through watching, doing, and teaching others how to go through this process of identifying what your assumptions are …  and then turning them upside down in order to come up with something that is very new and very refreshing. 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
So some say reversing the vector if you will, reverse the thinking and start that way.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University Exactly.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
It’s a great way to start.  The opposite.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  It doesn’t mean you throw out all the assumption but you figure out which ones can be turned upside down to create something new.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
It’s a great starting point because that triggers.  So do you also find that could trigger?  And how do people handle that creativity will trigger more and more thinking?  Talk about how that changes for an individual and then in a group.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  Well, I think one of the interesting things is that the students come out of these sort of exercises feeling very empowered.  They realize this wasn’t so hard.  In fact in was actually pretty fun.  To take something and turn it on it’s head and see if there is some new opportunities there.  One the things about working in a group, I mean most of us when we work in organizations work in teams.  It can be very challenging.  People have very different points of view.  I remember many years ago when I first was in the working world all of the sudden had this huge “AhHa? everybody didn’t think like me.  Especially when you’re in school and an individual contributor in your class room and you’re graded on your work you don’t really have to work with others.  For many people is a very big shift to figure out how do you work in a creative team. So we spend a lot of time focusing on that.  Looking at the different roles people play on teams, how do you make effective team dynamics work?  Especially when you’re trying to solve a critical problem.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Road blocks?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  Exactly.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Someone says, “No.?  Does that kill it?  You have an idea, you have failures.  There is this idea and then someone says, “No.?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  It is interesting, one of my favorite tools I use is a test called, De Bono (www.edwdebono.com).  He was a big theorist on creativity in teams.  And he has a test called the Six Hats test.  Many people might be familiar with it.  There are all these different hats that you can wear which represent the different role you play on a team.  The green hat is the hat of creativity.  The black hat is the devils advocate.  The white hat is sort of Mr. Spock, give me the facts.  The red hat is the emotional hat.  The blue hat is the process hat.  And on and on.  You can do a very quick test and see what is your dominate hat color.  The fascinating thing, I’ve done this.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
I need to do that.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  You need to.  I’ll send you the link.  The fascinating thing is that when I do this test in different groups, like the electrical engineers vs. the management side of engineers.  The profile is really different.  The management side engineers tend to be very blue hat dominated.  Meaning they are much more interested in process.  But I do an exercise in class then in which I give them a very open ended assignment, such as designing an amusement park, or a video game, or creating a floor plan for a house.  And over the course of the project they are required to change their hat color.  So every ten minuets, they have to acknowledge what hat they had been wearing and then what new hat their going try to put on.  It’s really great because they get to experiment again, low risk environment, experiment with the different roles they can play. 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
What’s that theory again?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  De Bono’s Six Hats.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
The Six Hats that’s great.  I going to check that on the net.  I need to figure what hat I’m always wearing because I’m different colored every day.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  I think you’re the green hat.  Mr. Creativity.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
So talk about failure because entrepreneurs they can deal with failure.  Most entrepreneurs fail many times before they get it right.  How do you explain that?  In terms of giving some coaching to some entrepreneurs out there.  And also talk about in a corporation, where things have to be right.  What environment needs to be set for that environment?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  My favorite topic failure, one of the most interesting things is that in some cultures like ours failure is accepted.  We’ve learned in this area that it is okay to make mistakes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over again.  In many cultures that is not okay.  In fact we talked in the last podcast about Latin America, that is one of the biggest problems (and many parts of Asia as well) people feel tremendous fear of failure.  So one of the things I do with my students.  Which makes their hair stand up and their palms all sweaty, I require them to do a failure resume.  Now just think about them for a minute.  Here is what they have to do; they have to basically put together a resume with all of their biggest screw ups, personal, professional, and academic. 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Wow.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  The cool thing is I don’t look at them; they only share what they want to share with the class. But the key is that they don’t just write down their failures but they have to write what they learned from them.  Failures are okay, as long as you aren’t doing it again. 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
Or make big ones.  Too many big ones.  Little ones are good, don’t make BIG ones.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University   Well you know maybe a big one is a big lesson.  As long as didn’t hurt anybody along the way.  The fascinating thing is that the students are very, very anxious about this.  These are students who have been very successful in their lives and have spent most of their time looking at their life through the lens of success.  To get them to focus on their mistakes is really, really difficult.  However, this is why we hire people with experience.  It’s because they have experienced doing things right as well as doing things wrong.  If that wasn’t important we’d only hire smart people who were right out of school.  So being willing and able to …

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
That’s a great point.  What about corporations?  That isn’t a big thing, about innovation.  Some say they can’t move fast enough.  Obviously some companies do it better than others.  How do you get an environment that is risk free, or almost risk free?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  I think that is very difficult.  However, there are ways to do it by changing the incentive system.  One on my colleagues, Bob Sutton, wrote a fabulous book called Weird Ideas that Work. One of the ideas in there is about rewarding success and failure.  Basically reward people for trying things as apposed to just rewarding success.   People need to see in the culture that it is okay to try things and that failure isn’t going to get you booted out of the company or cause disastrous results.   It you can’t tolerate failure, then you’re never going to come up with anything new.  You just are going to end up staying in the same place. 

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
We’re here with Tina Seelig at Stanford Technology, she also teaches a class on creativity innovations in organizations and a lot of the concepts of a failure resume and rewarding failure and successes.   Final question:  Advice to entrepreneurs and business folks out there who are looking to be creative and innovative.  What can you boil down to them in terms of “off the cuff? advice?

Tina Seelig – Stanford University   I think it goes back to the original comment about the fact that every problem is an opportunity.  One thing that some very successful serial entrepreneurs do is collect problems, keep a journal with all of the things that drive you crazy, because baked into each one of these things that drive you crazy is an opportunity to fix that problem.  The other thing is to surrounding yourself with lots of other creative people who are going to help you take these ideas to the next level.  As I mentioned, working in teams is often challenging, but sometimes you get fabulous input from other that allow you to really shake up your ideas and take things to the next level.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
And being open.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University   Exactly.

John Furrier – Founder of PodTech.net
That’s great stuff!  Tina Seelig with Stanford thanks so much for this creative, innovative podcast.

Tina Seelig – Stanford University  Thank you!

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