Design Better
Design Better
Tina Seelig: Constraints drive creativity

Tina Seelig: Constraints drive creativity

Episode 69 of the Design Better Podcast

What is the difference between creativity and innovation? What does it take to find your superpowers? How can you become open to embracing failure to learn and grow?

Tina Seelig, Executive Director of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program at Stanford, has spent a large part of her career answering questions like these, while studying and teaching creativity, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

Tina has a PhD in neuroscience, and we speak with her about how her background influences the way that she approaches these topics. We also discuss how to approach creativity in a corporate environment, and why being a good listener is an underrated superpower that many of us can cultivate.


Dr. Tina Seelig is Executive Director of Knight-Hennessy Scholars and Emeritus Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program at Stanford School of Engineering. She teaches courses on leadership, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( at Stanford.

In 2014, Dr. Seelig was honored with the SVForum Visionary Award, and in 2009 she received the Gordon Prize from the National Academy of Engineering, recognizing her as a national leader in engineering education. She also received the 2014 MS&E Award for Graduate Teaching, the 2008 National Olympus Innovation Award, and the 2005 and 2019 Stanford Tau Beta Pi Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Dr. Seelig earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University Medical School in 1985 where she studied Neuroscience. She has worked as a management consultant for Booz, Allen, and Hamilton, as a multimedia producer at Compaq Computer Corporation, and was the founder of a multimedia company called BookBrowser.

She has written 17 popular science books and educational games. Her books include The Epicurean Laboratory and Incredible Edible Science, published by Scientific American; and a series of twelve games called Games for Your Brain, published by Chronicle Books. Her three newest books, published by HarperCollins are What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, inGenius, and Creativity Rules.

Summary (Via ChatGPT 🤖)

This episode of the Design Better Podcast features Tina Seelig, a Stanford professor, and author, who has spent her career studying creativity, leadership, and entrepreneurship. In the episode, she discusses the importance of challenging assumptions and reframing problems, empowering young people to craft their own lives, and the similarities between running a laboratory and leading an organization. She also shares insights on how to cultivate creativity in a corporate environment and why being a good listener is an underrated superpower.


  • 👩‍🏫 Tina Seelig is a Stanford professor and author who has spent her career studying creativity, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

  • 🖼️ Seelig discusses the importance of challenging assumptions and reframing problems.

  • ✋ She talks about empowering young people to craft their own lives and feel more control over their future.

  • 👂 Seelig shares insights on cultivating creativity in a corporate environment and the importance of being a good listener.


Tina Seelig (00:01):

Constraints are one of most powerful stimulants of creativity. And if you don't have the constraints, you often don't have that engine to push you forward. The constraints force you to do the right thing to say, okay, given our limited resources, what do we do

Voiceover (00:18):

Better Products and experiences take more than just great engineering and design teams to materialize. They rely on collaboration across disciplines, from marketing to legal, to human resources and beyond. In season seven of the Design Better Podcast, we'll be exploring what it takes to make work more collaborative, creative, inclusive, and impactful throughout your organization. Along the way, we'll learn from our guests how to raise the collaborative intelligence of your teams with insights from experts like Guy Kawasaki, legendary Macintosh evangelist, and near ial best selling author of Hooked and Intractable. This podcast is hosted by Aaron Walter and Eli Willie, and is presented by Envision a transformative collaboration platform for all the work you do. Discover more best practices, research and resources for and inside

Eli Woolery (01:16):

What's the difference between creativity at innovation? What does it take to find your superpowers? How can you become open to embracing failure to learn and grow? Tina Selig, executive director of the Knight Hennessy Scholars program at Stanford has spent a large part of her career answering questions like these while studying and teaching creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship. Tina has a PhD in neuroscience and we speak with her about how her background influences the way she approaches these topics. We also discuss how to approach creativity in a corporate environment and why being a good listener is an underrated superpower that many of us can cultivate.


And one more thing before we get onto the show. We just published a new book. It's called The Collaborate Better Handbook, and it distills many of the lessons we've learned over the course of hosting the Design Better podcast into actionable insights. This book is going to teach you about leadership, creativity, and collaboration from many of our top guests, people like John cle, Seth Goden, John Mata, Eileen Fisher, Rochelle King, Steve Johnson, Debbie Millman, Dan Pink, Julie Zoo, and a whole load of other folks as well. You can download the book for Now let's get onto the show.


Tina Seelig welcome to the Design Better Podcast.

Tina Seelig (02:51):

Thank you very much. Delighted to be here.

Eli Woolery (02:53):

So glad to have you, Tina. As we mentioned in the introduction here, you have a PhD in neuroscience and you've spent a lot of your career studying creativity, leadership, entrepreneurship, and teaching. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you bring from your background in neuroscience into these other endeavors, and then maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you're doing now with the Knight Hen seek scholars at Stanford.

Tina Seelig (03:17):

Great, thanks. Well, one could say there's nothing related to neuroscience and leadership, but actually there's a tremendous amount. Once you start digging in, you realize that when you're doing science in any field, you're at the frontier. There's a lot of uncertainty. You have to come up with some really provocative questions. You need to figure out how you're gonna answer them. And this happens when you're leading any organization. And in fact, I've run programs on entrepre leadership for PhD students for many years, and they come out of the program often saying, wow, what I'm doing in my lab as a scientist prepares me so well for leadership roles. Because running a laboratory and being on the frontier of science is very, very similar to being in a situation where you're trying to invent the future.

Eli Woolery (04:08):

What are some of the core problems you see your students and your program struggle with as they're trying to think about like, how do I be an innovative and creative leader?

Tina Seelig (04:17):

One of the things that I'm very excited about related to this is of course I teach on inventing the future and utilize when students have been feeling a lack of control about their own future and the future of the world. And so what I've been really excited about is helping young people feel much more agency, more control, more power in crafting their own lives and in inventing the future that they want. So I think that's one of the most important things that we need to think about as leaders is how do we empower others to feel the agency to really make things happen?

Eli Woolery (04:56):

You wrote a book offering guidance to 20 year olds to young people what you wished you would've known when you were 20 years old. And I wonder how the thinking that went into that book relates to this idea of of giving young people agency, like did you feel that you didn't have agency when you were that age, and do you think about that differently today?

Tina Seelig (05:16):

That book grew out of a list I started putting together for my son when he was 16. I realized that he was going off to college and he was this pretty sharp guy, but that there were so many things that I felt I had not really articulated to him as important lessons and insights about what it really meant to craft the life that you wanna live. And so this list just kept growing as a word doc on my computer. And one day I was asked to give a talk for a business leadership group at Stanford, and I decided to pull up this list for inspiration and it turned into a talk called What I Wish I knew when I was 20. And over the course of a couple of years giving and refining this talk, I kept being asked to give it in larger and larger venues.


And then I was giving this talk to all of the cadets at West Point and I realized there's something really in this. I really need to turn this into a book. So that's how the book evolved. And you're absolutely right. The lessons in that book are about how do you see the world as opportunity rich full of possibility? How do you give yourself permission to follow the rules you want? That doesn't mean break the law, but how do you look at the fact that a lot of rules are just recommendations and a lot of the lessons we're taught by others are really giving us very clear constraints that actually don't exist and allowing you to challenge assumptions, to break the rules, to come up with a path that really is right for you. That's how the book evolved and it absolutely plays into everything I teach. I think that these are such powerful insights that we often are not taught when we're growing up. You know, school is very much formulaic these days in so many places, kids are lined up in rows and columns, the chairs are bolted to the floor, they're taking multiple choice exams and graded, you know, like a piece of meat or you know, and not looking at each person as an individual who really needs to craft the life that is right for them.

Eli Woolery (07:18):

Are there any specific lessons from that book you that kind of flow to the top for you?

Tina Seelig (07:22):

Yes, a lot has to do with challenging assumptions. There are so many things that come our way and we make assumptions about the way things work, but if you're really open-minded and willing to challenge those assumptions, you end up opening up the aperture of what's possible. There are lots of really fun ways to do this, and that's what I try to do in my classes is come up with fun experiences that really bri these lessons home. My most famous, famous lesson and exercise is something that's gone viral. It's really been quite funny to see it pop up all over the place. It was a situation maybe about 15 years ago. I was asked to teach one week about entrepreneurship at the new design school, the D School at Stanford. And we had a teaching team that was kind of a cast of thousands and I had one week to teach entrepreneurship and I thought, what could I do in one week?


And so I gave the students, they were I think about 15 teams and I gave each team an envelope with $5 in it. And I told them that they had as much time as they wanted over the next few days to think about it, but as soon as they opened that envelope, they had two hours to create as much value as possible value measured in any way they wanted, starting with this $5. And here's the thing, I did not know what was going to happen, and this is actually just to double click on that for a second. I never give the same assignments twice because I wanna be surprised as the students are by what happens. So I don't ever wanna be anchored by what students last year did. So I've only run this experiment one time and then I morphed it over time. So what I did is I gave them them $5 and two hours and they then at the end of the week, they had to create one slide that they were gonna present in class to tell the other students what they had done and they had three minute presentation time.


That's the whole assignment. There's nothing else. $5, two hours, three minutes. Well, I knew you could do something. I knew you could, you know, have a lemonade stand or a car wash. I knew you could do something that it wasn't gonna be a bus. So about a third of the students did that. Did you know a lemonade stand, a car wash, a bake sale? Okay, that was interesting. They made, you know, 20, $30. Then there were the students who said, you know that $5, that's a red herring, it's actually the two hours, it's valuable. And so they took things that they already had like cameras or bicycles, and they ended up making, you know, well over $200. What they did is things like setting up a bike tire, pumping up station in the middle of a campus and asking for donations. And then when you pumped up people's tires, they gave them money and they gave them much more than, you know, 50 cents, they made over $200.


There were teams that one team that made reservations at all of these restaurants that were very popular in Palo Alto near Stanford. And it happened to be Parents' weekend. It was very good this weekend. And so when people got in line, it was so long and they said, Hey, I'll sell you the reservation for $20. So people were delighted, like, oh my God, I'm happy to skip the line for $20. So there were lots of really amazing things that people did with just the two hours, but the team that made the most money was so clever and they really challenged the assumptions about what the value was. And they decided to sell their three minute presentation time to a company that wanted to recruit the students in the class. It was so wonderful because it just forced everyone to open their eyes that there's value everywhere around you.


Uh, one of my colleagues likes to say that there's a million dollars waiting in every room. It's up to you to discover it. You know, it might be a new friendship you make, it might be a business idea, but it could be anything. And if you're not opening your eyes, you're missing that opportunity. And in fact, I don't know if you know what, I did a TED talk on how to be lucky and a lot of these same concepts come out because again, there's so many opportunities around you. I liken it to the winds of luck. The winds of luck are always blowing, but it's up to you to put up the sale to catch it.

Eli Woolery (11:17):

That's such a great story. And I think I read it in the context, and it may have been your article or one about you. I'm sorry, I've read so many articles, I'm kind of losing track, but sort of in the context of first principles and how do you apply first principles to these problems. But it also seems like a good example of reframing a problem. And you gave a talk, I think back in 2016 about reframing. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that and how, you know, reframing might relate to that concept of first principles.

Tina Seelig (11:43):

Exactly. I have to say, reframing problems is probably the most important thing I teach in my classes. We so often look at problems through one lens, and if you, you look at it from a different angle, all of a sudden the solutions pop in class. Example, I could ask you, what's the sum of five plus five? And the answer is 10, right? But if you turn the problem around and say, what two numbers add up to 10, how many solutions are there infinite? You know, of course there's one plus nine and two plus eight, and, but they're negative numbers. There are fractions. There's so many ways that you can do it, and that's really important. If you say, I wanna get to 10, what are all the ways for me to get there? They're an infant number of solutions. And so often we feel boxed in by the five plus five and thinking that's the only way that we're gonna get to 10.


It's very, very important. And framing and reframing and practicing that every single day is critically important and every single aspect of your life. I mean, I share a story in one of my books. It's actually very, very personal, but I've told it enough times, so I'm not embarrassed to tell you here. My husband and I, we went through a really difficult patch and I moved out, we were separated. We were separated for two years. And during this time, there were days where I was really, you know, just not very optimistic about whether we were gonna make things work, and I could make lists of hundreds of things that drove me crazy about him. And then there were days I was really optimistic and I could make a list of hundreds of things that I thought were really great and why I really, really appreciated him.


And then one day I realized they were the same things. And I have to revisit this every single day because you know, every day you can look at, you know, your partners, your colleagues, your friends. There might be something that drives you crazy, but you realize actually the flip side of that thing is what you were attracted to in the first place. You know, I give you just one example. You know, when we were separated, my husband started going to the gym a lot and he got in really great shape. And so I'd say on the good days, like, wow, he's in such great shape, you know, that's so wonderful. And on the bad days, I would look at it as like, you know, wow, what a board. Doesn't he have anything better to do? Right? I mean, it was my framing what was happening was actually pretty objective. He was going to the gym, but I was then projecting all sorts of other things on it. And I think that ability to understand that we're projecting meaning onto different activities allows us to choose which ones are really appropriate.

Eli Woolery (14:08):

I love this line of thinking of sort of casting off constraints or reframing, rethinking what those constraints are and what you're doing with your students is helping them broaden their perspective. But the world that they go into that all of us end up in, you know, it's corporate culture where it's just all constraints. It's just, it feels like a lot of like limitations of we're supposed to operate this way for these outcomes. You know, marching towards these metrics. What can corporations learn from young people from a different way of thinking about creativity, innovation that they're not embracing right now?

Tina Seelig (14:47):

When the pandemic started, I went into hyper drive activity with constraints because when the pandemic hit, all of a sudden our lives in a moment became so constrained. You know, whether it was things we couldn't buy in the grocery store, the fact that we couldn't go out, the fact that we were now teaching online, I mean, everything turned upside down in a second. And I really explored this and to the conclusion which I put together in this talk about the fact that constraints are one of the most powerful stimulants of creativity. And if you don't have the constraints, you often don't have that engine to push you forward. There's a classic example from Mon Python. Are you guys mon Python fans?

Eli Woolery (15:27):

Yeah, we had John Cle on the show.

Tina Seelig (15:29):

Okay, great, great, great. Okay. Well he will certainly remember this story cuz it's one of the famous examples from Marty Python where they had a limited budget for making money Python on the holy Grail. And the script called for a horse, you know, big stallion coming over the hill with a knight and shining armor. Well, there was no way they could afford that. So what did they do? They looked around and they grabbed some coconuts and start banging the coconuts together in the sound of hoof beams. And it not only worked, it became one of the funniest parts of the entire movie and one of the iconic things that, uh, they're known for, I think it's really important to keep that in mind is that oftentimes when you look at companies that have way too many resources, they make bad decisions, the constraints force you to do the right thing and to say, okay, given our limited resources, what do we do? Instead of looking at constraints as something very bad, think of them as something as a stimulant. I mean, think about Twitter, when Twitter started 140 characters, you know, what can you do with 140 characters? Well, this became a wonderful platform for people. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, almost like a little bumper sticker, you know, that they would send out messages and think about what do I do? What kind of message can I send out with 140 characters?

Eli Woolery (16:41):

So talking about constraints and the pandemic, it sounds like you started your night Hennessy role during the pandemic. And when I was teaching during that period, it was pretty amazing that the students came up with these, you know, wonderful ideas. I teach in the product design program, and they're coming up with ideas for, you know, low cost ventilators. And in the very beginning it seemed to be a very kind of invigorating thing. I mean, everybody was scared, but there was like a lot of enthusiasm to come find solutions. But then as time wore on and the constraints became more around, we can't see each other in person. We're on zoom all the time, we're getting fatigued. There are these different, I kind of, in some ways maybe negative constraints. What was your experience there and how did you see students kind of coming through that on the other end of the pandemic?

Tina Seelig (17:25):

I really appreciate you bringing that up because that is the next step. That's the nuance here, right? Creativity is very stimulated by short term constraints, but when you end up with unrelenting constraints, it can be extremely disturbing. There's a two by two matrix that I created inspired by one by Teresa Mobley from Harvard. She was looking at pressure and creativity, and I started looking at constraints and creativity. So if you look at sort of a two by two matrix, and on one side you have constraints, low constraints and high constraints, and the other you have creativity, low and high creativity. If you have high constraints, you can have high creativity. When you feel like you're on a mission, think of Apollo 13, right? You're on a mission and the pressure is on and you can be incredibly creative if you've got a mission that has to be accomplished in a short time.


But if it's unrelenting, you feel like you're on a treadmill. And that is exhausting. But there's also the flip side where you could have low constraints and high creativity. When you feel like you're on an expedition, think about when you're on vacation or taking a walk, you know, you can have no constraints and be very creative, but there also can be situations where you have low constraints and low creativity. That's when you sort of feel like you're an autopilot and you're just doing the same thing over and over again. And so one of the goals as a manager, a leader of any organization, is to keep a team sort of above the line going between expedition and mission going, between being an expedition, being a mission, and not falling below the line, you know, where you feel like you are either on a treadmill or on autopilot.


And so it's really interesting, this has been something that I've been exploring. And I also think there's also another level of nuance because sometimes you actually wanna drop down into being on autopilot. You know, think about it sometime during the day where you, you know what, I just wanna do something mindless. I'm just gonna go fold laundry, or I'm gonna answer some emails. I wanna do something that has some level of productivity, but I really wanna be mindless for now. So thinking about where you are in this matrix at any one point is very, very helpful. Going between treadmill and autopilot in between mission and expedition and managing the constraints so that you can get you into the appropriate box, the quadrant that you wanna be in, or that you want your team to be in at any one time.

Eli Woolery (19:57):

Tina, what's the difference between creativity and innovation?

Tina Seelig (20:01):

Ha ha, ha ha. So I wrote a book about this and it resulted from the fact that I was been teaching classes, actually of course called Creativity and innovation for years. And I realized that I was really using the terms interchangeably, and I realized this was a huge missed opportunity. And so the framework that I created called the Invention Cycle, goes through the process from imagination to creativity, to innovation to entrepreneurship. And the definitions that I use, and you know, you can use 'em if you like, other people might disagree, but this is I find very, very valuable, is that imagination is envisioning the world that doesn't exist, right? I can envision anything right now, right? I can envision, oh, a butterfly is flying around. I mean, you can imagine it. And kids do this naturally. Creativity is applying your imagination to solve a problem.


So we do this again all the time, you know, you open the refrigerator, you're hungry, you go, oh, there's peanut butter, there's jelly, there's bread, I'm gonna make a sandwich, right? You that wasn't new to the world, but it might possibly be new to you, but you're solving a problem, applying your imagination to solve a problem. Innovation takes it to the next level. That is applying creativity to come up with a unique idea. And there are many times where a creative solution is just fine, make that peanut butter sandwich. But there are gonna be other times when you go, I have to come up with something that no one's done before. I need to really come up with something really innovative. There's a big difference there. And then entrepreneurship is applying that innovation and scaling it and bringing it to the world. And people often conflate all these people conflate innovation in entrepreneurship that's like, oh, what innovation is only if you've actually brought it to life. Well, I think that's silly. There are lots of innovations that for one reason or another have not scaled. And you know, the timing might not be right, you might not have the right resources, et cetera. So having this pathway that goes from imagination to creativity to innovation to entrepreneurship, allows you to figure out where you are in the cycle and the end leads back to the beginning. Because at the end, once you've scaled something, you now can imagine the next thing. And this cycle goes on.

Eli Woolery (22:07):

Hey everybody, we hope you're learning about how constraints can inspire creative collaboration from our guest Tina Celick. We wanna take a minute to talk about how Envision can help inspire more inclusive collaboration across your teams. Envisions collaborative canvas. Freehand makes everything from wire framing, brainstorming, retrospectives, and even getting feedback for the next episode of this podcast. Easier, impactful, and exciting with hundreds of templates built for and by your peers, as well as smart widgets and integrations with the tools you rely on. And vision helps you make your workspace work better for you. And with spaces you can bring all your teams' workflows together in one place. Create a simple, safe, single source of truth for your team by placing envision documents, external files, and useful links inside your spaces. No more wasted time, lost files, or crossed wires. So if your company is looking for a single place to come together, get organized, co-create, and push work forward, check out Thanks so much for listening. And now let's get back to the show, Tina, one of the, uh, podcasts that I think was your own podcast actually called Leap. There was an episode where you talked about superpowers. And I think, you know, if you're in the frame of mind where you're either trying to get to the next level in your career or maybe you were in a position where you needed to find a new job, kind of identifying your own superpowers is probably a good thing to think about. Can you talk a little bit about superpowers and how you identify or cultivate your superpowers?

Tina Seelig (23:40):

Yeah, I think that it's really important to think about what is it that you do best in the world world and, and to really cultivate that, the question is right, do you play to your strengths or do you strengthen your weaknesses? But understanding what your strengths are is the first way to start. What is it that comes naturally? What do you wanna triple down on? And it might be, it's not even something that you initially were brilliant at, but it's something you've put enough time into that you've really become skilled at it. And so we often wanna hire people who have these superpowers. And I love the concept that I've learned from a colleague of mine, of painting the target around the arrow. You know, figuring out what is the superpower and the skills that each individual has, and then shaping the role that they have around what they do really well. And so it starts with actually understanding what you do really well so that you can find yourself in a position where you really shine.

Eli Woolery (24:32):

You alluded to the idea of luck and maybe it's something that we could cultivate or maybe tip the odds towards. Could you give us a little insight of like, how do we create our own luck around our career and our creative process?

Tina Seelig (24:46):

Yes, I care deeply about luck. I grew up with my father always saying, the harder I work, the luckier I get. And I realized, you know, okay fine, I worked hard and that really helped me feel like I was becoming luckier. But I realized that hard work is actually just one lever you have at your disposal for becoming lucky. There are opportunities everywhere and you really need to put yourself in a position to become lucky. Whether it means getting out of your personal comfort zone, doing things you've never done before, taking some risks. One of the things I have my students do is to do a little risk oter. The risk oter, something I develop with my colleagues at Stanford. And when we did a class on risk taking, it is a circle, it's sort of a spider chart. Imagine putting a hash lines across the circle so that you have, it looks like a spider web.


And then you map out your risks on different ac. So one axis might be physical risk, one might be intellectual risks, might be social risks, might be ethical risk. You could put as many different types of risk as you want. And then you map out them on the spider chart, right? The middle is zero and out toward the edge is more, right? So I might say I'm a low physical risk taker, so I would be down at the bottom, but I'm a high social risk taker that would be at toward the edge. And you map yourself on this. In fact, I invite you guys to do it at some point. It's kind of fun. Share it with other people and you realize how different folks are. You know, if some person says, you know, jumping out a perfectly good airplane, that's just fine for me.


You know, another one's like, you gotta be kidding, I would never do that. You know, you never catch me doing that. You know, someone would say, oh of course I'll give a toast at a wedding. Another person's saying, oh no, please, I would never get up. That would be, you know, mortifying. So understanding your own risk profile is the beginning. And then figuring out how can you stretch that a little bit, you know, if you want to, you know, how can I become a little bit more of a physical risk taker? What sort of things can I do that gets me outta my comfort zone and puts me in a position where I might be luckier than I am now because I've taken that little risk.

Eli Woolery (26:48):

So the flip side of the risk is the failure. And in your book ingenious, you talk about the idea of, or the importance of embracing failure to find solutions. And this kind of mirrors the framework that we teach students in design thinking about being iterative and divergent thinking. So talk a little bit about that, the kind of embracing failure side that might relate to risk we just touched on.

Tina Seelig (27:12):

Yeah, I think failure is one of the most interesting things. I do a lot of exercises my students to have them come to terms with how they think about failure. One of my favorites, and you can use this in your class if you like, <laugh>, is I have the students after they do their risk OERs and we sort of talk about risk. I have them ask them, what happens when you fail? What is your mental model of what the bottom looks like when you hit bottom? What is that? What is actually happening? What do you think is happening? And some students say, oh my gosh, it's like a black hole I'm gonna fall in. I'll never come out. Others say it's a trampoline, I'm gonna hit bottom and then bounce back. Others say it's, you know, shards of glass. Others it's, you know, I mean a puddle of mud. Others say it's burning lava. Some say it's quick sand, some say it's bouncy balls, some say it's a pool of water. I'm curious for you, what is the bottom made of for you?

Eli Woolery (28:07):

You know, I have a kind of a weird answer cuz I've read this in one of your books or articles, but my bottom is sort of family. I feel like my family will will be there to help me, to catch me, to help prop me back up about you Aaron. Yeah. You know, the first thing that came to mind was darkness. But I, I like what you said, Eli, because I do think that if you can establish a good foundation for yourself in life, whether it's career or whatever you're pursuing, if there's utter failure, you know, there's a solid foundation there. People that love you, care for you will support you through difficult times.

Tina Seelig (28:39):

That's really great. But it also is helpful to like literally figure out what surface it is. Like is it, you know, is it quick sand that you need your family to pull you outta? Okay. You know, is it a pool that you're drowning and they're gonna pull you? Like what is the mental model you have of when you fail?

Eli Woolery (28:57):

Yeah, darkness, I think

Tina Seelig (28:59):

Darkness, yeah.

Eli Woolery (29:00):

Bring light to the darkness.

Tina Seelig (29:02):

Yeah. Right. They come in with their flashlights and show you the way out.

Eli Woolery (29:05):

Yeah, absolutely.

Tina Seelig (29:07):

I know that just for me it is rubber that it does not mean it doesn't hurt. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, right? I hit bottom, it like really hurts. But after the initial impact I get propelled back up.

Eli Woolery (29:19):

Yeah, I guess I could think of it. I used to wrestle and so maybe like a wrestling mat where you, it stings a bit if somebody takes you down, but you know, you can get back up.

Tina Seelig (29:26):

Yeah, exactly. And you say, okay, I'm gonna do this. But the thing is, once you have this mental model and you go, okay, I think it's a black hole and I can't get out, you go, you just made that up, right? Make up a news story. Let's take a read a news story. Because really and truly when you fail, you are not falling into a black hole, right? You're still here. The problem is, if someone has a mental model that failure is so horrible that you're gonna die and never get out of this black hole. You're not willing to take any risks. That ends up becoming a real problem, both individually and for the, you know, any sort of organization you work with if you're not willing to try something. I also have my students do failure resumes. So the resumes of their biggest screw ups, personal, professional, and academic.


I love this exercise because of course you can imagine all these Stanford students who are used to succeeding in everything and highlighting all the things that go well. Well what ends up happening is, you know, there's a flip side to that. There are always things that were failures along the way. And if you can highlight them and really embrace failure as data, and this is really important, failure is data. Like, oh, don't do that again. I have to say, I used to be, when I was younger sort of person who beat myself up endlessly when I made a mistake and I know my students do the same thing, I'm constantly beating themselves up for any failure. Once I was able to say, all right, that did not work. What can I learn from this? I was able to move on much more quickly to recover and to use that data in a way that I was much less likely to repeat the same mistake.

Eli Woolery (31:05):

So presumably with your students, there's a a fair bit of support that you and your team offer as they go into the workforce and they're thinking about like, how do I interview effectively? How do I tell my story? How do I, you know, show what I'm good at? What guidance do you give people for navigating interviews successfully?

Tina Seelig (31:28):

Yeah, it's interesting. At night had to see scholars where I'm currently working. We have a program for all of our first year students. They do a year long storytelling. How to tell your story, how to communicate effectively. It's one of the most important skills that you can have no matter what you do, but certainly if you're gonna be a leader, is to be compelling in the way that you share stories. And the stories can be about anything. It certainly can be about your own life and your skills and what you've accomplished. But we're telling stories all the time at work, whether it's to our colleagues, to our customers, to all of our stakeholders. And being able to communicate effectively is incredibly important skill. So yes, this is something they learned. You know, I'm super comfortable giving my students lots of feedback about how they present themselves, how they're seen in the world so that they can continue to improve. And I think that's one of the things that we often don't do, is give people the feedback that they need on the soft skills that are gonna help them really get ahead.

Eli Woolery (32:26):

What are the common mistakes? Like what do you see all the time? Cause it's very unique that you see so many people who are trying to develop these skills. There's gotta be patterns of, okay, these are the tripping haters in any interview.

Tina Seelig (32:37):

Well, one of them is being, being curious. One of our former PhD students did a fabulous series of experiments. They were sort of social psychology experiments around interviews, job interviews, and this was really, really fascinating. She had a set of people, these were all mock interviews, but people who were primed to see the candidate in a negative light. Okay? So they were primed like, I'm not sure this is a great person for this role that, you know, interview them anyway, if you told the candidate to have a mindset of curiosity. And then what happened is it actually reversed the negative bias. So if I went in with a mindset that I was gonna learn something from the interview, then the person who was interviewing there was reverse in even their negative about. So I'll give you a personal example that happened to me years and years ago.


It's a story I actually told in my book of what I wish I knew when I was 20. It was right outta school and there was a job I really wanted and there really was not a job, it was an organization I wanted to work for. And I was a little bit of a pain in the neck in terms of calling them repeatedly, repeatedly trying to reach the person who I would potentially work with. But they kept telling me to call back at a different time. And that person was never there, but they had, now these were days, it was before email, you know, like a whole wall of, you know, little messages from me. I was like, I probably are the only person who called. It was a really new organization. And so they had a whole wall, you know, Tina called Tina called Tina called Tina called.


So when this person finally got there and got the messages, she invited me to come in and first thing that she said was, I have to tell you you're not a good match for this organization because you're just too pushy. So I could have been defensive, I could have gotten up and left, I could have cried. And I said, wow, I really appreciate your telling me that I think I miscommunicated, or you know, I've been misinterpreted. I think most people would think of me as high energy and enthusiastic. And I'm sorry that that was interpreted as being pushy. And she melted. We had a wonderful conversation and I walked out with a job. It's just an example of, you know, if you're open-minded, if you have a mindset of curiosity, you're gonna be much better off. You know, that was a way that also that I made myself lucky by being open-minded. So I think that's one of the things these days with the world that has become so siloed and where people have such very different points of view. One of the things that we really spend a lot of time teaching is students have conversations, difficult conversations across lot of difference. How do you listen? How do you be a really good listener? How can you be open minded? How can you be curious because you don't know everything and each conversation can open you up to a whole new way of looking at a situation.

Eli Woolery (35:29):

Tina, I really love that spirit. And one thing that we often ask our guests as we wrap up the interview is what's inspiring them right now. But I'm also curious, Aaron and I just wrapped up a book about the podcast that we're launching soon and I know you've written several books. Is there anything that you're thinking about writing might write, that you can talk about, or also anything that's inspiring you?

Tina Seelig (35:49):

Great. Those are two very different questions. I'll answer both of them. Uh, what's inspiring me right now is that tonight the Knight Hennessy Scholars are going to be participating in our annual ideas festival, where they are going to get up and pitch projects that they wanna work on. And these projects range from healthcare to the environment to education. Just a huge range of topics. And then teams get formed around these projects and over the course of the year, these teams work on it. And at the end of the spring we have a showcase of all the projects. So really excited to see the projects that get pitched tonight and to see where those go. And your second question about writing a book, first of all, writing a book is hard. Congratulations on your upcoming book. It is a, you know, act of creation that is extremely effortful.


I've been playing around whether I wanna write another book. One of the things I've been excited about is the question of how we decide to decide. Now you can tell me if this is actually interesting because I've been sort of prototyping it and just wrote a medium post about this to getting some feedback that we think that the most important thing is how we make decisions. But I think before that is the decision to actually make a decision. So many people don't take the agency to say, I'm actually at a decision point and what kind of decision do I need to make right now? And to really engage in the world with a mindset that every single day you get to make a lot of very important decisions and you need to decide which of those you're actually going to decide. There are lots and lots of research on how we decide, but what about, what do we decide? What are the decisions we make and when do we decide to make them? Many people go through life not making the decisions, they didn't even know they were a decision point. And so it, I, it's a little meta, so I was trying to figure out if it's a little bit too obtuse or something that I should really start

Eli Woolery (38:00):

Exploring. I think you have something there. Definitely interesting

Tina Seelig (38:03):

<laugh>. Well, we'll see. We'll see where it goes.

Eli Woolery (38:06):

Well, Tina, it's been wonderful having you here on the show. We thank you so much for your time and for your insights. And if people wanna learn more about you and your work, where could they go?

Tina Seelig (38:16):

Probably the first place is you can follow me on Twitter. That's just TC li T S E E L I G, LinkedIn, Twitter. Those are the places where I post a lot of information about what's going on.

Eli Woolery (38:27):

Fantastic. Thanks again so much.

Tina Seelig (38:29):

Thank you so much. It was really a pleasure.

Voiceover (38:35):

This episode was produced by Eli Willie and Aaron Walter with engineering and production support from Brian PA of Pacific Audio and brought to you by Envision. If you found this episode useful, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts, or simply drop a link to the show into your team Slack channel. It'll help others discover the show need tools to raise your team's collaborative intelligence. Visit envision where you'll find a single place to come together, get organized, co-create, and push work forward. And visit inside and design where you'll find our library of free eBooks, audiobooks, videos, and articles about foundational concepts of design and business. Until next time,

Design Better
Design Better
Design Better co-hosts Eli Woolery and Aarron Walter explore the intersection of design, technology, and the creative process through conversations with inspiring guests across many creative fields. Whether you’re design curious or a design pro, Design Better is guaranteed to inspire and inform. Episodes are released semi-weekly for free subscribers, weekly for premium subscribers. Vanity Fair calls Design Better, “sharp, to the point, and full of incredibly valuable information for anyone looking to better understand how to build a more innovative world.”