Untraditional advice for life's biggest decisions

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Tina Seeling's take:

On Opportunities:
Opportunities are abundant. At any time you can look around and identify problems that need solving. An entrepreneur is someone who is always on the lookout for problems that can be turned into opportunities and finds creative ways to leverage limited resources to reach goals. Most people approach problems as though they can't be solved and therefore, don't see the creative solutions sitting right in front of them.

On Attitude:
Attitude is the biggest determinant of what we can accomplish. Think as big as possible. It is easier to have big goals than to have small goals. With small goals, there are very specific ways to reach them and more ways they can go wrong. With big goals, you are usually allocated more resources and there are more ways to achieve them.

On Ideas:
The concept that there are no bad ideas is a hallmark of good brainstorming. During a brainstorming session is it important to explicitly state that there are no bad ideas. Most ideas, even if they look silly or stupid, often have at least a seed of potential. Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, to have a healthy disregard for the impossible, and to turn well-worn ideas on their heads.

On Career:
People expect you to make decisions about your career and then stick with them. But, most successful people change course many times before finding the best match for their skills and interests. Being too set on your path will likely lead you in the wrong direction. A successful career is not a straight line but a wave with ups and downs.

People will tell you the key to success is to follow your passion, but passions are just a starting point. You also need to know your talents and how the world values them. The sweet spot is where your passions overlap with your skills and the market. The goal should be a career in which you can't believe people actually pay you to do your job.

On Success:
Those who are successful find ways to make themselves successful. There is no recipe, no secret handshake, and no magic potion. If you want a leadership role, then take on leadership roles. Just give yourself permission to do so. Look around for holes in your organization, be willing to make the first move, and stretch beyond what you've done before.

On The Rules Outside of School:
The rules that apply in school are often completely different from those in the outside world. Gracefully bridging that gap to tackle real-world challenges can be extremely difficult. In school, students are graded individually, but outside of school people usually work on a team with a shared goal. In the business world there are usually small teams embedded inside larger teams, and at every level the goal is to make everyone successful.

The world is divided into people who wait for others to give them permission to do the things they want to do and people who grant themselves permission.

On Networking:
Remember there are only fifty people in the world. It really is important not to burn bridges, no matter how tempted you might be. Your reputation is your most valuable asset, protect and enhance it.

On Failure:
Failure is an important part of life's learning process. Life is full of false starts and inevitable stumbling. In fact, if you aren't failing sometimes, you aren't taking enough risks. A great way to illustrate this is by writing a failure resume - craft a résumé illustrating your biggest screw-ups and then write what you learned from each experience. Failures offer learning opportunities and increase the chance that you won't make the same mistake again.

Most people's paths are riddled with small and enormous failures. The key is being able to recover from them. For most successful people, the bottom is lined with rubber as opposed to concrete.

On Risk-Taking:
Rewarding only success can stifle innovation because it discourages risk taking. Organizations should reward successes and failures and punish inaction. If you want a creative organization, inaction is the worst kind of failure. If you do take a risk and happen to fail, remember that you personally are not a failure. The failure is external. This perspective will allow you to get up and try again and again.

On Quitting:
Sometime quitting is the bravest alternative, because it requires you to face your failures and announce them publicly. The great news is that quitting allows you to start over with a clean slate. Make sure that when you quit, you do so with careful thought about the consequences for those around you. You can never rationalize quitting in such a way that you hurt your colleagues, friends, or former business.

On Luck:
Lucky people take advantage of chance occurrences that come their way, they pay attention to what's happening around them - as opposed to going through life on cruise control - and therefore extract greater value from each situation. Lucky people more eye contact and smile more frequently, leading to more positive and extended encounters.

On Being a Team Player:
Almost everything in life is done in teams, and the best team players go to great lengths to make others successful. The higher you reach within an organization, the less important your individual contributions become. Instead, your job becomes leading, inspiring, and motivating others. It's more productive to be driven than to be competitive.

On Gratitude:
Showing appreciation for the things others do for you has a profound effect on how you're perceived. Assume a thank-you note is in order, and look at situations when you don't send one as the exception.

On Difficult Decisions:
Whatever you do, make sure you will be pleased with your decisions at a later date. Thinking about how you want to tell the story in the future is a great way to assess your response to dilemmas in general.

On Goals:
"Trying" to do something is a cop-out. You have to focus your intention to make something happen by giving at least a 100 percent commitment. Anything less and you're the only one to blame for failing to reach your goals. If you really want to deliver, you will figure out a way to make it happen.

And Overall:
Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous. It's easy to meet expectations, knowing exactly what you will get in return. But amazing things happen when you remove the cap and let yourself excel as far as you can.

Above all, give yourself permission - permission to challenge assumptions, to look at the world with fresh eyes, to experiment, to fail, to plot your own course, and to test the limits of your own abilities. Give yourself permission to see the world as opportunity rich and full of possibility. Boundless opportunities will result.

About the Author and the book:
Tina Seelig has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stanford University Medical School and is the Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, which is the entrepreneurship center at Stanford's School of Engineering. In addition, Seelig teaches courses on creativity and innovation in the Department of Management Science & Engineering and within the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I WAS TWENTY: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World (HarperOne; April 2009; Hardcover; $23.99; ISBN 9780061735196), offers inside access to one of the most fascinating courses in the world. With provocative lessons taken from Tina Seelig's experience in both the business and academic worlds, and filled with unexpected and inspiring stories about leading business figures such as Apple founder Steve Jobs, JetBlue founder David Neeleman, and Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, the book provides tangible skills and invaluable guidance empowering readers to achieve unprecedented success in any field.

Throwing out the old rules and providing a new model for reaching our highest potential, readers of all ages will discover how to have a healthy disregard for the impossible, how to recover from failure, and how most problems are remarkable opportunities in disguise.

Tina is hosting a lecture with the topic on her book at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club next Tuesday July 21st, for more information:

Tuesday, July 21
The Commonwealth Club - Gold Room
Time: 5:30 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. program, 7 p.m. book signing
Cost: $8 members, $15 non-members, $7 students (with valid ID)
>> Tickets

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