Tina Seelig stimulated the minds of hundreds of parents in the Hewlett Teaching Center at Stanford University this afternoon by showing them how to see the world through a lens of possibility.
"This isn't about turning lemons into lemonade," Seelig said. "This is about turning things like lemonade into helicopters."
Seelig is the Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, as well as author of the book What I Wish I Knew when I was 20.
She was the featured speaker at the class called Entrepreneurship as an Extreme Sport that was offered to the parents of Stanford students who are in town for Parent's Weekend, an annual on-campus event that gives parents a glimpse into their child's academic life.
Animatedly clarifying the visuals on her PowerPoint with multiple anecdotes from her own life, Seelig drew a comparison between the courage needed to jump off of a cliff and the fearlessness you need to be a successful entrepreneur.
"Value can be found anywhere," Seelig said. "You just need to get out of your comfort zone."
One of Seelig's most engaging tales was the one most relateable to everyday life. She was shopping at the grocery store one day to pick up some frozen lemonade mix when she bumped into a guy who was also in the market for concentrated refreshment. They began to chat about something random and she found out that he was in Silicon Valley from Chile to learn about entrepreneurship.
Coincidentally, she teaches a course on entrepreneurship at Stanford, gives him her card, and they go their separate ways. Later, she was traveling to Chili, so she e-mailed him prior to her departure to see if he wanted to grab a cup of coffee with her while she was in the country. He does, but is so busy that he can't meet up. However, he said, she should invite some of her colleagues to join her on the trip and go to a certain building at a certain time when they arrive.
Not knowing what to expect, she agreed to do it. When she and her colleagues arrived, a member of his family greeted them and escorted them to the family helicopter. They get in and are swooped away to the family ski resort, and later flown around the country. Talk about being fabulously lucky!
Or is she? Seelig told the crowd that successful entrepreneurs learn to be lucky, for luck is a learned behavior that is the byproduct of experience and value assessment.
Professor Richard Wiseman, author of the book The Luck Factor, is a former magician turned psychologist who studied the science behind the lives of lucky people. His most revealing experiment took two groups of people and tested them to identify how luck factored into their success rates.
The groups were separated by the way they self-identified. One group consisted of people who called themselves lucky, while the other group labeled themselves unlucky.
Wiseman gave them a task: Look through this news paper and count how many pictures are in it. The unlucky group took a very very long time; but the lucky group found the answer within a matter of seconds. What was different about the lucky group's experience that allowed them to find the answer so quickly?
Written on the front page of the paper in bold were the words: "Stop reading. There are 42 photos in this paper." The unlucky group was so busy counting the photos that they didn't see what was right in front of their faces.
Much like a cliff jumper, an entrepreneur sees the world as a place full of possibilities in which they can challenge assumptions and create value.
"The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who are aware of things in their environment, and leverage the surprises that come their way," Seelig said.
She illustrated her point with a 25-second clip of Vinod Khosla, former general partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
With an open mind and shrewd networking skills, the world is a place full of possibility.
To see Tina Seelig in action, check out her videos on Stanford's Entrepreneurship Corner. Here's one in which Seelig talks about why failing will actually make an entrepreneur more successful.