How to do the ‘creative hustle’
In their new book, the Stanford d.school’s Sam Seidel and Olatunde Sobomehin use design as a framework for connecting your gifts to your goals to create a life of purpose and impact.
Before Bryant Terry merged his passions for social justice and African American cuisine to become an award-winning eco-chef and cookbook author, he hit a point where he was feeling stuck in his career. Sam Seidel, director of strategy and research at the Stanford d.school’s K12 Lab, recounts how Terry invited his mentors and friends to participate in a “Brainstorming Bryant” session to help him envision his next chapter. “What Bryant did by essentially creating an advisory board for himself was so powerful,” Seidel says. “What if more of us did that? What potential might we unlock? How might we impact the world?”
Seidel and alum Olatunde Sobomehin, BA ’02 and 2020 Social Entrepreneurship Fellow, have co-written a book that addresses that question. Based on their popular d.school course of the same name, Creative Hustle uses the stories of people who have successfully blended their values and passions with their professional goals as mini-lessons in how to make a living doing what matters to you.
Acknowledging the many and varied connotations of the word hustle, the authors define it as the positive act of applying tenacity to an idea to make it happen. Here, they break down the creative energy behind creating a life of purpose and impact.
Creative Hustle aims to teach readers how to identify and unlock the potential of their unique gifts as a way to achieve their goals. Can you describe the guidance you offer in the book?
Seidel: First off, we need to be careful not to think of our gifts as things that come easily to us. They might, but they might also be things that we ﬁnd challenging but so incredibly compelling that we just keep coming back to work on them. Secondly, we need to think about our goals not just as the material things we hope to acquire and accolades we hope to receive – though it’s ﬁne to have those aims – but to center on the change we want to make in the world. Once we’ve deﬁned our gifts and goals in this more full sense, we offer three focal points:
- Deﬁne your principles: What values are non-negotiable? What north star is going to guide you even as you learn, grow, and change?
- Identify your people: Who are your inspirations? Who do you need to surround yourself with to push yourself forward?
- Build your practices: What are the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rituals that will keep you moving forward?
Sobomehin: The ﬁrst piece of guidance is about taking the time away to think about these things. We rarely carve out time carved to think about and write down our goals. Just taking the time to do this is a serious step in this process. The second piece of guidance is to ﬁnd inspiration in the people around us. We consciously chose people that were inspirational in their careers and yet approachable enough that we could see ourselves in them. We found practical and tangible takeaways on how they unlocked their creativity that could be great starting points for us to do the same. And the last piece of guidance we offer is to keep it going. Never stop doing it.
What inspired the approach you take in the book?
Sobomehin: It’s important to keep reminding myself and others that the best story can be the story of us, that we can blaze new paths and live a life of meaning that works for us. When I was in high school, a mentor introduced me to the book Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys, where the central concept was that black boys were implicitly told they couldn’t be both popular and smart. At that time, I noticed this around me – that it was assumed you couldn’t be both a high-performing athlete and a high-performing scholar. I took this as a challenge to live outside of these expectations. I earned all A’s from then on and competed in soccer, basketball, and track at the state level. I brought that same concept and drive to Stanford, where I walked on to a Top-25 basketball team and was voted Most Inspirational by my teammates. Then I sold T-shirts with a mission to “make popular culture positive so that positive culture can be popular.”
Seidel: Through my work as an educator, I’ve seen young people facing racism, ageism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and the stigma of incarceration find creative and ambitious ways to share their gifts with the world. But I’ve also seen people facing those forms of oppression – and some of the most privileged folks in society – get stuck. Sometimes being stuck comes from external forces, which need to be torn down. And too often brilliant painters, rappers, debaters, coders, dancers, builders, writers, organizers, comedians spiral into self-doubt and cynicism. These are people who have inspired me, who I wish to inspire. My hope is that Creative Hustle, the book and the concept, can be a humble offering back to them, an unsticking from uncertainty, a key of clarity to the lock of confusion and disillusionment.
How have the work-life changes that resulted from the pandemic shaped your ideas about “creative hustle”?
Sobomehin: The adoptions of technologies like Zoom gave us more ways to collaborate and express ourselves. And yet, on the other side of the coin, I think we are also learning how much community is essential to our creative hustle. Technology can underdeliver on its promise to bring us fulfillment and creativity, and I think we’re learning that we must not abandon being seen and being part of a community in order to create and work. What I trust will emerge is a world where we can put technology in its right place, and center ourselves, our spirituality, our families, and communities.
Seidel: These last few years have made it more important than ever for all of us to build our creative hustle muscles. What do we do when a health pandemic coincides with a national racial reckoning – when we need to take to the streets to protest injustice but being in close proximity with others puts our most vulnerable community members at risk? These are the kinds of complex challenges this moment in history requires us to navigate. If we are doing the work to get to know the values that guide us, recognize the people that inspire us, and explore the practices that will keep us moving through the tough moments, we will rise to the challenge. That is what creative hustle is about: defining our principles, identifying our people, and building our practices.
One of your goals in writing this book was to “actively contribute to bringing about a more just and more beautiful planet – a world that will be healthier and happier for our relations and future generations.” How can focusing on our individual goals contribute to a greater good?
Seidel: I love this question because it raises a tension central to my life, the human race, and this book. Despite what much of our society’s touting of independence would have us believe, we are individuals and we are collectives. Think about the biggest challenges we face. We cannot defeat fascism alone. We cannot address climate change alone. And yet we cannot wait for others to do it either. Each and every one of us must see our role in the collective. What is the role you want to play, the mark you want to make, not in isolation but in concert with what will be a growing symphony if we all pick up our instruments?
Sobomehin: All of us wake up in our own bodies every morning. We brush our own teeth, look at ourselves in the mirror, and decide how we want to live our lives. To that extent, our own goals occupy our most immediate attention. However, we want to show in the book how much other people – our communities – are a part of that journey, and how essential we are to other people around us. We are all connected. That awareness of our interconnectivity and interdependence should position us in family, in household, in community – and by way of that, it creates our world and our legacy.
Olatunde Sobomehin is the CEO and co-founder of StreetCode Academy, a nonprofit that provides classes in coding, entrepreneurship, and design to communities of color. Sam Seidel is the author of Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education.
Seidel and Sobomehin will speak at a book launch event on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 6:30 p.m. presented by the Stanford National Black Alumni Association and the d.school, and in a panel discussion at the d.school on Friday, Oct. 21, at 1 p.m.