Updated: Jan 22
If there’s anyone who knows about navigating a fulfilling and innovative career, it’s Tina Seelig, one of the world's leading authorities on creative thinking and innovation.
She spoke to The Symes Report about career, creativity and questioning the rules of the game.
Tina Seelig has inspired and nurtured thousands of students as a professor at Stanford University and led her own illustrious career; an exciting fusion of academia, popular content production, successful business ventures, social impact pursuits and leadership. Her bestselling book, What I Wish I knew When I was 20, is often included in lists of best career books on the market. Ten years in publication, with no signs of outdating, What I Wish I knew When I was 20 has an inspiring and enduring message: craft the life of your dreams with creative problem-solving techniques and resourcefulness, be unbound by expectation or limitations, and you will find your own success.
And rules? Tina cautions her readers, reminding them that there’s a difference between rules and recommendations and it can be limiting to see only rules in your way.
What motivated you to write the book, What I wish I knew When I was 20?
This book was motivated by my son, Josh. When he was 16, I realised that he would soon be heading to college and I wanted to impart wisdom that I wish I knew at that age. The list I started when he was a teenager turned into a talk that I gave around the world, and ultimately a book which came out on his 20th birthday.
How do you feel 10 years later about the book? Were you surprised by its success? Why do you think it struck such a chord with readers?
I was shocked and delighted by the book’s success. I believe that people in many parts of the world are hungry for the message in the book that you are ultimately responsible for your own path in life, and that you can give yourself permission to “break the rules” to achieve your own personal objectives. I continue to get letters from people of all ages with stories about how they took this to heart and crafted the life they dreamed of living.
A lot of our readers are mid-career. If you had to think about the title, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 40, without asking you to write a whole new book, what would be some of your tips?
At midlife, it is important to remember that there is still a lot of time to design the life you want. You can leverage all you have done so far, the network you have built, and the knowledge you have gained. My career at Stanford began when I was 41 years old, so I know this to be true. The key is to set an intention about what you want to do, let others know about your goals so that they can help and, just like when you are 20, take steps in the direction you want to go.
You have a hugely successful career as a Stanford professor, faculty director, speaker and author. What are you currently passionate about in life and work?
For the last year I have been experimenting with a bunch of new courses which provide new challenges for me and for my students. For example, I developed and taught a new course on unlocking innovation in prison, in partnership with a large prison in California, San Quentin State Prison. There were 16 Stanford students and 16 men from San Quentin in the class. We had a live link between Stanford and the prison twice a week, and visited the prison four times during the academic quarter so that the students could work together in person. It was one of the most challenging and inspiring classes I have ever taught.
You have helped kick start and nurture many careers and some very famous businesspeople. Is there a particular journey that you are most proud of?
It is a huge honour to help young people gain the knowledge, skills, and mindset needed to see and seize the opportunities around them. Their stories continue to unfold years after they take classes, and share that the lessons they have learned continue to serve as guideposts along the way. I am particularly proud of one student who went on to medical school and became a neurosurgeon. With the skills he learned about turning problems into opportunities he is now launching a new venture capital company designed to solve vexing problems in the healthcare arena.
Are we all creative?
Of course we are all creative! If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to solve all the problems we naturally address each day. The key is to help everyone learn how to hone these skills. Just as we teach math, science, music, and sports, we should be teaching creative problem solving skills to everyone.
What place does creativity have in the future of work?
It is critical to the future of work. Computers are great at solving problems, but we are needed to frame those problems properly. That requires creativity. In fact, that is what I spend most of my time focused on in my classes - teaching students how to ask questions that reveal a much larger range of solutions.
What’s next for you?
I am excited about a new course called inventing the future. Each week the students learn tools for generating bold ideas for how the future might evolve and tools for evaluating the impact of those innovations. We then have a debate about the utopian and dystopian consequences of a different technology, including lab grown meat, drones for package delivery, and AI personal assistants. The students walk away with an understanding of their role in crafting the future, and tools for doing so.
To buy Tina's book in Australia click here: