Getting Smart and the Live from SXSW

Key Points

  • Good ideas are great, but they don’t have an impact until we put those good ideas into action. We can all do this, but it takes discipline and practice.

  • Design thinking is not just rambunctious collaborative ideation with colorful Post-it notes. It also involves quiet solo reflective work.

  • Creativity is necessary in all aspects of our work in education and social change. There are diverse ways to study creativity and put it into practice. sxsw interview

This special episode of the Getting Smart Podcast is a live broadcast of a conversation between Tom Vander Ark and authors from the Stanford Together they discuss four new books that speak to important aspects of this work. This conversation features Sam Seidel and Olatunde Sobomehin of Creative Hustle, Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro of Experiments in Reflection, and Grace Hawthorne of Make Possibilities Happen to discuss what educators can learn and use from these books and the authors’ work at the Stanford and beyond. Equal parts inspiration and actionable ideas, this conversation is a great survey of meaningful works.

Sam Seidel

Sam is the co-author of Creative Hustle and the author of Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education and the Director of K12 Strategy and Research at the Stanford Sam speaks internationally about innovative solutions to challenges facing schools, community organizations, and prisons. He is a passionate and experienced leader in education transformation. Sam has taught in a variety of settings from first grade to community college. He has built and directed programs for young people affected by incarceration. As a consultant, Sam worked with leading national education organizations, including the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Big Picture Learning, and Jobs for the Future, as well as a spectrum of other clients on a diverse set of projects, ranging from redesigning a statewide juvenile justice system to working with the Rockefeller family to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Sam was the Director of Partnerships, Annual Reviews, and Student Leadership for the Association for High School Innovation, a national network of school developers and replicators funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Olatunde Sobomehin

Olatunde is the co-founder and CEO of StreetCode Academy, a community-based organization providing free tech education to communities of color. In addition to StreetCode Academy, Olatunde has co-founded Esface, a youth sports and culture brand and Trillicon Valley, a lifestyle brand with products in technology, fashion, and branding. He is also the co-author of Creative Hustle.

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro

Leticia co-directs the University Innovation Fellows Program. She is an adjunct professor at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (, where she teaches Stanford students of all disciplines how to build their creative confidence to become engines of innovation in their own lives, and as members of teams and organizations. She is also the author of Experiments in Reflection.

Grace Hawthorne

Grace Hawthorne is an entrepreneur, artist, author and educator. She is the Founder & CEO of Paper Punk and author of Make Possibilities Happen. As an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University’s design institute (aka: the, she has taught courses on creativity/innovation/failure for over fifteen years and spearheaded a groundbreaking research project on creative capacity building published in Science and covered by Wired magazine. Previously, she founded ReadyMade, the culturally disruptive design magazine that ignited the maker movement, and led its acquisition by Meredith Corporation (NASDAQ: MDP) and co-authored the critically acclaimed book on reuse design, ReadyMade: How to Make (Almost) Everything (Random House/Potter). Her products can be found on the shelves of mass retailers and her artwork has been exhibited in several national museums including the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum Triennial. She holds an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA, MFA from UCLA’s School of Film and Television, and a BA in Visual Communication from UC Berkeley. Grace has dedicated her life to making things and experiences that cultivate human creativity through the marriage of art + commerce. She believes that (almost) anything is possible.




Tom Vander Ark: Hello everybody, I’m Tom Vander Ark from Getting Smart and we’re live at SXSW EDU. How are you doing? We’re here talking about what I think might be the most important subject in the world. So, I talked to Letitia a couple of days ago, the author of one of these cool design books from the Stanford And I argued that the world is changing so fast that I think we reached a point about ten years ago where the problems we’re facing are more complicated than our collective response, our collective problem-solving ability. And so, I think what we desperately need are collective problem-solving, and collective design strategies to save the world. I also think, as somebody really interested in human development, that experiences where young people, in particular, have the opportunity to frame a problem, design a solution, and sprint to impact is super rewarding.

Introduction to the Series

They supercharge identity and purpose and agency, and they build these super valuable leadership and problem-solving skills and so on a macro and micro level of developing super capable human beings and addressing the big problems in the world, I think design solution design might be the most important issue in the world. And we just happen to have a fantastic series from the Stanford on the subject of design. And today, we’re celebrating four of the great books, I guess three of the great books in this design series. And they’re not just toolkits. I almost think this is like a spiritual series because it’s really about inviting learners to figure out who they are why they’re here what they’re good at and what they care about, and then how to actualize that in the world. 

And for me, that’s just not about making a living, that’s about being a human, a full human being, and making the world a better place. And so for me, this is a super practical series. It’s a spiritual series, and it’s a beautiful series. Sam from the is the author of one of those books, and co-author of one of those books called Creative Hustle. But you’ve kind of… been there from the beginning. But what else did you say about the series and how it came together?

Sam Seidel: Yeah, thanks, Tom. Well, first of all, welcome everyone. It’s cool. I’m a listener of the Getting Smart podcast. It’s cool to be here for a live recording in person. It’s a treat. So glad to be here with you. Thank you for doing this with us. An author I know named Frank Wilson told me years ago, that he spent ten years writing a book called The Hand that he thought was about the relationship between the human mind and the hand. And then he spent the next ten years with people telling him what the book was actually about. And hearing you talk about what these books are kind of is like that for me. It’s cool to hear what you’re getting out of them and it’s helping me understand what the heck we just did doing these books.

But this series, as Tom was sharing, was really meant to kind of crack open the, right? We’re part of Stanford University and a lot of our work, since we’ve existed, has been pouring attention and care into students at Stanford University. What these books are allowing us to do, and we’ve always had big ambitions to bring folks in and share, we’ve had a very active K-12 lab for years that’s really prioritized access for K-12 educators, students, and leaders to get some of the experience. But we’re limited by the size of the space and how hard it is to get there and all these things.

So this series of books that we’ve been doing over the last few years has been our attempt to crack, to open what the does and share it with the world in a much more accessible way. And what we want in the series, there are ten guidebooks, three of which are represented, as Tom was saying today, and we have two other books that kind of bookend. The series was to give as many different perspectives and windows into the work we do as designers and the things that we teach as we possibly could. So each one is going to look different, and at points, you might even look across the ten and say, how do these connect? That’s a good thing. We want to expand the conversation about what design can mean and can do in the ways that you were just getting it.

So want to say that I’m super excited to hear this conversation today between you and these authors and check out the other books.


Tom Vander Ark: All right, so here’s what we’re going to do. In our first sprint, we have these three extraordinary authors, and I’ve invited them because these books are each a framework, right? It’s a framework of mindsets and skills and a bit of methodology for how you should think about yourself and your work and how your entry points into how you approach the world. So I think of that as sort of a framework, and each of them has these beautiful books that have succinct visual frameworks. They’re each going to describe that frame and then give you just a glimpse of the origin story of how that framework emerged in their work in life. We’re going to start with Grace Hawthorne. She has this spectacular book. I told Grace that I felt like II should apologize to people on the airplane because it was so. It’s violently colorful. 

Grace Hawthorne: Thank you so much. He said it all. No, I’m kidding.

Frameworks and Mindsets

Tom Vander Ark: Describe the frame. And then, like, where in the world did this come from?

Grace Hawthorne: Okay, so Make Possibilities Happen. I’m gonna break it up into two parts. Part one: the logistical framework. It teaches you or informs you of how to make the future and create the life that you want. And what I found is that two primary pain points are standing between us and our possibilities. The first one is starting, and the second one is finishing. And so I break that up into four parts. See, start, do, finish. And it comes from 35 years as an entrepreneur and 15 years as an educator. The genesis of that framework really comes from a creativity study that arose out of the 15 years of teaching this course called Creative Gym.

In year six, a brain surgeon who was a visiting fellow from Taiwan came up to me after class and said, “Am I different?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, you’re different. You just sat through ten weeks of this amazing course,” and he’s like, “No, is my brain different?” I’m like, “I don’t know. You’re the brain surgeon, not me. You tell me that.” And that simple query of curiosity launched an almost decade-long research project on creativity, which answered the question: yes, you can teach creativity and no, it is not acquired knowledge like riding a bike. Once you know how to ride a bike, you forever know how to ride a bike. It’s actually a muscle you need to condition, like sit-ups to maintain and build.

And if you’re not in academia, which I am not, it’s a published research paper, and it’s not often talked about, so I get to talk about it kind of to a more public, kind of general audience. And it’s something that I’m really proud of because we have scientific evidence that the work we do at the does change your brain for the better. So I’m very happy about that.

Tom Vander Ark: Thank you. It is. This is the growth mindset, design thinking guidebook. Ready? See, Start, Do, Finish. I loved it. 

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, you’re a very interesting human being because you’re a developmental biologist, right?

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Yeah, that’s true.

Tom Vander Ark: And so your book is called Experiments in Reflection. I found your book to be a science book because it’s a series of experiments, right? But it’s also a very spiritual book. I found it super reflective. And the opening, you called it a whole-body experience that through reflection brings forth possible futures. I mean, it’s really. You use sort of developmental biology language. Describe the frame and where it came from.

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Yeah, sure. So first, hi everyone. It’s so great to see the faces that we’ve seen at the Future Studio that the has here at SXSW who are coming and also new faces. So the book Experiments in Reflection was my attempt at taking essential elements of what the experiences that we create at the for our students are, which is learning by doing and reflecting, right? Like, so you experiment, you try something, but then you make connections through reflection and bring it, put it into a book form so that anyone, anywhere can access it and put it in practice. Because reflection is one of those things that we feel like, “Yeah, we have that, right?” It’s just like I stop and think or I journal, and there’s so much more to it.

So in the book, as you mentioned, I put a non-definitive definition of reflection, a way of looking at reflection as a whole-body process of transforming experience into meaning to shape futures. So in other words, three dimensions of reflection. Noticing is a whole-body process. So, like using all of your senses to be aware and notice things of the world around you, but also look inside, right? Like, notice things about you. Notice, tuning into your moods, into kind of, like, how do you see yourself? How does that affect how you relate to others? Like transforming experience into meaning is about going beneath the surface, right? Making connections between what you notice and what you already know or what you think you know, your assumptions.

And finally, and very importantly, to shape the future, right? Because we tend to think that reflection is looking back, but I think it has to be, and it can be, and it needs to be about reflecting forward and not thinking about the future as something that is happening to us, but we are happening to the future. We are imagining a range of possible futures and then choosing what to do today, to strive and drive towards those futures.

Tom Vander Ark: In the opening of your book, you describe reflection, and I think almost all of us think of reflection as backward-looking. But the way you invited us to reflect on possible futures was its design. Right. But we don’t think about it that way. So it was beautiful.

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Yeah. And I think what is interesting also about all of the books in the series is that there is not one way that is like, “okay, this is the way of defining something,” or “this is the process.” But there are multiple ways in which you can achieve your goals of, for instance, building a better future for yourself and others. And so, like, having multiple entry points. And reflection is about that. It’s about making it personal and figuring out what works for you. How do you need to shape your environment, shape your relationships, connect with others, and find frameworks that work for you? Right. Like, so at a given moment, a certain frame or a certain entry point might be what you need, and someone else might go about it differently or talk about it differently.

We are all striving for a better future, becoming better humans, and contributing, to make a difference.

Tom Vander Ark: Olatunde… How do you say your last name? Sobomehin? I got it wrong.

Olatunde Sobomehin: You’re close.

Tom Vander Ark: Yeah, I got it wrong. 40% on our first podcast too. I’m just gonna say Tunde.

Tom Vander Ark: Tunde. Speaking of reflection, one thing I love about your book, there’s a magic chart in your book that it’s this gift-to-goals chart that invites you to reflect on your people, the process, and your practices. So it’s a spiritual practice of figuring out who you are, and then your framework is about your code. What does that mean?

Olatunde Sobomehin: Yeah, this is the only book on here co-written. Right. So we had to kind of merge experiences that my co-author, Sam Seidel, who’s in the room, and I found in common. The origin of the book came when I spent a lifetime of work in a community called East Palo Alto and East Palo Alto’s Neighbors, Stanford University. Not a lot of pipeline from East Palo Alto students into Stanford University. Resources are very lopsided. And so when Sam and I got together, we both had an appreciation for these communities. He had a lot of work. He was at, you know, he was based in but had done a lot of work in communities like East Palo Alto. And I had been a student at Stanford University and was living and serving that community there.

So we felt like, what could we do to bring these communities together? We wanted to do a class together, so we brought together a class hosted at the but made up and comprised 50% of street-coat students. And there was when we brought these folks together and we thought about, you know, what could we teach?

Blazing Your Own Path

The idea of creative hustle came to me because no matter where you were, whether you were an established career student going back to business school, which we had in that class, or whether you were a fresh undergrad, or whether you were a parent living in East Palo Alto, you all felt like there were expectations on you, from your family, from businesses, because you looked a certain way, had a certain amount of money in your account, or because melanin was in your skin, that made you feel like you were expected to go a certain way. And that’s not the way I wanted to go. I’m a law student, but I really love visual design and I want to make my own path. The subtitle is “Blaze Your Own Path and Make Work That Matters”.

And so many of us, I think you said it in a spiritual sense, are trying to make work that makes money. But we want to make work that matters. We found that this was a path that everyone wanted to be on. When we explored in class and through many interviews, with creative hustlers, we call them, people who can navigate and blaze their path, we found a particular sort of framework, or pattern, rather. Everyone had gifts. We all have gifts in the room. Some of us don’t know what they are and need to unlock those gifts. But we all had gifts, and we all had goals. And we call that the bookends, gifts to goals.

But then there was this pathway, this bridge between gifts to goals, and principles. People had a code, like a set of moral values or just a direction. People understood how to leverage and un-tap the people around them, and how you relate to people in the community. And then you had practice. What did you do daily to make those things happen? And so we broke the book down into principles, people, and practice. That’s the framework.

Tom Vander Ark: Tunde, I want to ask each of you, because I found your book. All of these books are super personal. There are personal reflections on the journey that these professionals have been on and then lessons for learners on the journey. But I found myself a couple of times stepping back, saying, “What would this mean for the community? What would it mean for the creative hustle community?” So, when you think about those practices, are they ever shared practices among a community? What do you think about cultivating hustle and the role that the community can and should play?

Olatunde Sobomehin: I’m gonna… There’s a cheat code for all these books, and that is to look back at what we wrote. And I have an even bigger cheat code because some of these ideas weren’t my own. Some of these were from Sam, and I appreciate being able to read this real quickly. “To be fully alive is to find purpose in the lowest of lows and highest highs. Community helps us grow through the vulnerabilities of life and gives us cause for celebration. So the best creative hustlers surround themselves with a crew to help navigate the tumultuous seas of creative hustlery. The best creative hustlers know when to work alone and when to pull others in, how to build alliances, how to be effectively engaged antagonists, and how to learn from everyone with whom they come into contact.”

They understand that building community, facilitating collaboration, and understanding relationships are the center lanes in moving from our gifts to our goals.

Tom Vander Ark: Beautiful, Grace — this book is super personal. It’s like having a little cheerleader on your shoulder. But it made me wonder, like, if an organization wanted to make possibilities happen, what would that look like? What would this look like in the community?

Grace Hawthorne: Okay, so I feel like in an organization, oftentimes the left-hand doesn’t talk to the right-hand, and maybe even they don’t know they exist, which makes it even worse. And I think in an organization where possibilities exist, they’re holding hands. And I think what that entails is shifting the conversation away from the word creativity, which is something that is often talked about, into the word creator. Everybody is a creator. I don’t care if you’re in accounting or you’re in marketing, if you’re an administrator, if you’re an educator, every day we show up, we are making something happen. We’re making something happen for somebody else or for our community or our own lives.

And I think when we recognize that’s our power, and that’s what this book is, what I want to really impart to people is, that you have everything you need to create whatever possibility it is that you want in your organization or in your life. And we are predisposed to certainty, safety, and comfort, to shy away or to shrink away from things that don’t feel right. But in reality, it’s like, okay, that might have saved your ass when you ran away from, you know, a furry mammoth like when you were a caveman. But today, you kind of need to step forward. You need to, like, lean into, like, that discomfort. And that’s what it means to be a creator. You gotta get out of your own way and embrace that. And so in a community of possibilities, everyone’s a creator.

Everyone owns it, everyone builds it, and they support each other for a larger purpose in a larger context.

Tom Vander Ark: Letitia, what would reflection look like in a community?

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro:  Before I answer that, I want to go back to the decision to make these, in particular, Experiments in Reflection. I’ll speak for my book about individual experiments and private experiments, right? You could think about how most of the experiences at the involve working with others, being in teams in pairs, and having whole group discussions, right? But if you think about it, a book is normally an individual experience, right? You’re reading the book on your own. So you could think about that as a limitation. How do you translate some of the experiences that you create for a group and turn them into a book?

But you can also think about it as a strength, as a positive from the point of view that for many of these activities, it takes courage and trying something new, trying different ways of work. And sometimes when we do that as part of a team, as part of a whole group, it might be scary, right? Like, I’m showing up and doing something that I don’t know if it’s gonna work, right? Like, what are. Am I going to? What are others going to think? So actually doing individual private experiments gives you the freedom to try things that you don’t know if they’re going to work, but you’re on your own. You can then decide to share your experience with others, but you can have that safety.

That was the intent in creating personal experiments and lowering the barrier for it to be something that you can do and apply in every single course or in the experiences that I teach. Every course is a learning community, and as such, you need to build that community and set the foundations for that. So one thing that we do, and I’m looking at Sam, I’m looking at Meenu Singh with whom I teach, we really start by setting norms, setting shared norms of the community that guide how we’re going to show up for ourselves and others so that we can all make the most of the learning experience, right? And in the book, I invite people to do that for themselves as well. But thinking about, like, well, for instance, seeing failure as a springboard for learning. Right.

Or being okay with experiences that create more questions than answers. Right. And seeing that as a good thing. Right. That propels your learning. Right. So really what’s important is that every single thing that we do, for instance, in a course or maybe like with our teams, we really need to build shared norms that allow us to be a community. It can be a community of two people, but understanding what are our shared norms and values allows us to show up as our best selves for learning.

Tom Vander Ark: Tunde, do you buy that the hustle is sometimes individual and sometimes it’s team? Is it both?

Olatunde Sobomehin: You described Leticia as a behavioral. I mean, as a scientist, as you know, she’s a practitioner. Whatever she says, I believe. So, I’m not gonna go against Dr. Leticia. No. But we saw that in the interviews that we talked about. I think about Jadenna. Jadenna is a recording artist we profile in the book Nigerian background. And he talks about his father giving him the physics formula for velocity. And then he talks about what happens when you collaborate with other people. And so when you collaborate and when you work inside of a community, what that does do to you? To your momentum and how fast you can achieve your goal. And so he talks about that.

There’s another person that talked about Bryant Terry, talked about not really knowing where to go in his career and then bringing together almost a personal board of advisors to come together for one night to kind of help shape new possibilities, to help dream alongside him what new possibilities could be. And, you know, Sam was along, Bryant Terry, for this ride and saw all this transformation happen. Bryant Terry at the time was doing social justice food, social justice work, you know, through a nonprofit, and now has five books. He’s a James Beard award-winning author and cook. He’s a five-time author and has his own print to produce another kind of cookbook. So he’s doing all the things that these other folks did inside of the community. So I buy that these kinds of practices, the creative hustle have done best in the community.

Tom Vander Ark: Your book had a lot of beautiful stories in it that just bring to life what this is about. Leticia, on the other hand, what I found most provocative was imagining future possibilities. And so that’s a different application of story because you think about the story and the lesson from a story, but you’re like inviting us to reflect on future possibilities and imagine stories yet to be told. Is that fair?

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Yeah. We might think that reflection and imagination are at odds, but actually, you need to be able to activate your imagination to be able to. You cannot build a future that you cannot imagine. Right. That you have not imagined. So really being able to see and to imagine many possible futures. Right. And then think about, like, well, what’s interesting about that future or what’s scary about that future? And what do I do today to, like, direct myself and others towards those futures, but also thinking about how we stretch our time horizons? We tend to be very kind of thinking about it in a very short-term, and maybe it’s a five-year plan. It’s like, great, but that’s kind of short when we think about humanity.

Reflective Practices and Learning Experiences

So can we really stretch ourselves and think about what we want to see in 100 years, in 200 years, when we are not going to be here? And that’s crucial because that requires that we enlist, if you will, an intergenerational collaboration that we think about. What can we…? So one of the experiments is called “Don’t Finish What You Start.” Right. Actually, like, I was able to get my editor to let me kind of, like, say, start, dot, dot. But it’s about thinking because we tend to think it was like, okay, I’m going to do this project, and this is going to go this way and kind of like this. This is a successful outcome. But what if we imagine something that we actually need to pass along to future generations? Like, you need to continue this work.

Tom Vander Ark: All right, I have a story I got to tell you really quick. Is anybody here from Cajon Valley East San Diego? I was just a few minutes ago writing about the launchpad that they have in middle school. They create these immersive experiences, and then they invite reflection, and they say, given those experiences that you just had, what can you imagine about your future? How does that align with how you think about your identity your strengths and your values? They created this launchpad along with, Santiago workforce partnership, and they invite parents to come in, do the same thing, and some days it brings parents to tears because nobody has ever asked them to imagine a possible future. Right?

And so imagine being drawn into that possibility space with your kid. Right? It’s super powerful. What do you think about the story? Where does it show up in the design process? 

Grace Hawthorne: What? Stories?

Tom Vander Ark: Yeah. Are stories important?

Grace Hawthorne: Stories are really important. And it’s something that I didn’t really recognize because until recently, actually, when doing the book, each one of us, like, we don’t choose, as Tunde, say, who our parents are, what neighborhood we’re born in. Every one of us is like a unique individual based on our context, and our experiences. So when I say blue, like, I always say, it’s like, words are so important, but they’re also deficient. If I say blue, like, maybe you were just in Cancun, and I’m just thinking of the gray sky that’s in northern California, but that, to me, is blue, right? So we bring different meanings. And I think in story, when we communicate who we are and what is meaningful to us, it gives. It gives it more power. It gives it more meaning. It gives it.

I think about values a lot, and I think about the human condition a lot. And I was just talking to Sam. We were talking about, like, okay, well, you know, this audience is filled with administrators and educators, and everybody might be, but many of you may be parents. And it’s like, what do we want and why do we want it? And what are we trying to solve for? And it’s like, are we creating band-aids or are we creating cures? And what’s the timeline for that? And how do we service both, right? The immediate need for something in a classroom to the larger purpose and future of the tomorrow that we’re all trying to create? And you talk about reflection. Nobody stops. And does that?

Like, the fact that you wrote a whole book on that is amazing because every school activity follows with a debrief. And that is a moment of reflection, as you just described in that San Diego classroom. Like, what just happened? What did this mean? And even though, like, we may all have the same shared experience of whatever that experience was, we now have exponential information and context of what just happened. And that just expands my story and my experience exponentially in a way that is gold, is literally gold.

Tom Vander Ark: In the pandemic, we released a couple of books. The first one was the Power of Place. And in that, my co-author, Nate McClennen, reflected that every place is a place worth exploring and experiencing. And every person experiences every place in a different way. And you described that beautifully, so it’s so important with place-based learning or project-based learning to invite that reflection, because everybody just had a very different experience, right?

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Yeah. And I think that’s key because reflection is what allows making the experience not about the thing, the activity, but about the person and what that means to them. And it’s different for everyone. Right? Like, so if you don’t allow for that reflection to really make the connections from what we all experience or the information that we got, how does that jive with what I know or what I assume and what I’m going to make with it tomorrow, next year, and how that transforms me. So one of the things that we like to say when we create learning experiences is not learning about. It’s about learning to become, helping learners become more creative, become more observant. It’s really about how it transforms you.

Grace Hawthorne: Can I add something to that? Okay, so this might be out there, but it’s like there’s a saying and it’s a quote, and it’s in my book, and I’ve attributed it to somebody who I don’t think was the originator, but “we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” Right. And that, to me, encapsulates this idea of reflection and context and provenance and stories, and not to undervalue like we should all. There’s so much currency in our uniqueness and never sell that short. Never sell that short.

Tom Vander Ark: I loved all of these books, and to me, these books are a very different experience than my high school experience, which mostly sucked, you know, because it was training in compliance and regurgitation. Right. And because my life is really about helping America create better high school experiences. And what I most want in life, like Corey Mohn at CAPS, is to invite more kids into work that matters, where it’s connected to who they are and to their community and where they’re sprinting to deliver value. So I kept thinking about that when I read your books. And so I’d love each of you to reflect on what does this mean for high school? And so you can do it in one of two ways. Tunde, you can describe what would Creative Hustle High look like? Or if you want to do a smaller, like, where would you want to see creative hustle surface in a learner’s journey? So what does Creative Hustle High look like?

Olatunde Sobomehin: No, that’s a great question. I would want to go to that high school. I like the sound of that. Few thoughts. First, you know, he referenced, Sam wrote a book about that. It’s called Hip Hop Genius. He just celebrated ten years of the original release. So that’s Hip Hop Genius 2.0. It’s in the bookstore, so you can read it for yourself. In terms of our book, one of the most humbling things, our book has been out for about a year and a half. One of the most humbling things that happened was that there was a school district in Eugene that actually said, “Hey, for our career technical education program, they have a program called CalSci Center for Applied Learning and Community Impact.”

We would like all of our, every single student that goes through our school, our program, we want them to have the creative hustle and identity, and I think that’s pretty powerful. And so we’ve been working with them over the last year to make this happen, and we’re working through it. But in concept, everything that you’re learning in high school should be through the context that you just beautifully said, Grace, which was, “Who am I in this?” And so if you do this, the very first thing that you do is to write down, what you assume your gifts are. What do you say in the community? You attribute your gifts, and then you figure out what your goals are for that moment in time. What are you going to leverage? What are your principles? How are you going to leverage people?

Olatunde Sobomehin: What are your practices going to be? And then I take a math class, and then I take a design class, and then I take, now I’m able. And then I reflect on that throughout the period, throughout the process. That to me becomes a cyclical kind of almost reflection moment where you are thinking about yourself inside of that learning. And that to me feels like a better high school experience.

Tom Vander Ark: Your gifts to goals chart just ought to be in every learner’s, every secondary learner’s advisory system, and you ought to cycle through that at least once a year. But what about entrepreneurial experiences? Because this is kind of a guidebook to entrepreneurship. And I found that’s the hardest thing to introduce into high school because of the nature of entrepreneurship. The nature of the creative hustle is you’re not sure where it’s going to start, and you’re sure not sure where it’s going to end. And so you may end up creating something and learning something that you didn’t anticipate at the beginning. And that makes it difficult to stick into something called a course in a master schedule. So like, do you have an idea of where and how we could surface entrepreneurial experiences for young people?

Olatunde Sobomehin: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if the word entrepreneurship is the appropriate word to attach to the whole book. Right. We have some professionals in there. I’m thinking about Tessa Aragonis. The book ends with this idea about don’t let hustle kill your creativity. And our story, we profile this professional, Tessa Oregonis, who’s the president of AKQA and has a long professional career. Right. So she’s not in a sense an entrepreneur. But what she is in charge of is her own right output. She is that “I’m a start and stop what I want to do” even inside of a company. So I think that idea of don’t lose track, you said it, Grace. Like, don’t ever lose track of the fact that your perspective, your journey, your personhood matters. Everybody in that book has done that now.

Tom Vander Ark: Right. And let me just underscore what you described as hard to do in what we call high school today. Cause you just described high agency learning. You described learners who are empowered to frame up problems and attack them with a sense of agency, maybe towards an outcome that wasn’t anticipated. And none of that is easy in the way that we have structured high school.

Olatunde Sobomehin: So you said it better, more hustle.

Tom Vander Ark: One way or another. Letitia, you’re actually doing this. You created the University Innovation Fellows, which is. What is that program?

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: So it’s not high school. It’s for university students, mostly at the undergraduate level, but also graduate students participate as well. There are students from over 300 universities that we help prepare as change agents who notice opportunities at their schools and their communities, opportunities to make education better for themselves and their peers. And they have to do the creative hustle to actually make those possibilities happen. When they notice something, they notice an opportunity. It’s not just about saying we need this, but it’s like, okay, what are you going to do as a student to collaborate with leaders, with professors at their university, to change things up, to embed more experiential learning, to create more spaces for student creativity and collaboration. And they’re doing that in many. The program has been around for more than a decade now.

Tom Vander Ark: Is that an out-of-school experience?

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Yes. So you could call it a co-curricular or extracurricular layer of the experience, but really empowering the students to see themselves as someone who can make a difference. Now, they don’t need to wait to graduate, to be anointed with a degree or a title, to do something, and especially contribute to transforming our educational institutions, which require innovation and transformation. And we need to enlist the ingenuity of the young people, of the learners, not as just customers of the system, but as protagonists, right? Like that, actually, they know a lot about what their needs are, what their experiences are. So we need to empower them as change agents, and that’s what the program does.

Tom Vander Ark: Grace, what would Possibilities High look like?

Grace Hawthorne: Okay, so I really love this idea of agency and entrepreneurship. I think it’s going to take us and the creators and us and entrepreneurship. And I agree. I mean, that sounds like I’m creating a whole organization and business, but literally, when you make Sunday dinner or whatever, like, you’re starting something and you’re finishing it. And I used to have this magazine called Ready Made, which was like Martha Stewart meets This Old House. We had thousands of reader submissions. They would send in a lamp that was made out of a blender. The pride in what they created was crazy. Like, it was fanatic. And there is so much joy and self-accomplishment and confidence that comes from making something.

So, like, you don’t have to build a company. You can just make a thing, right? You have to just start and finish, and you can. So the possibility is high. Okay. You would go to your math, just like today said. You’d have your math, you’d have your core subjects, and then we would talk about, well, what did you learn and what did that process. How do we apply it to a prescribed context or situation? Like, we do that when we create our activities in the classroom. Like, okay, you have five minutes, and you have, you know, a constraint of these materials, and this is the outcome we want you to drive to. Then part two, you would, instead of a prescribed context, you would pick a context within your community.

How would I apply this, whatever this learning is to my school, to my classroom, to something identified that’s in here that affects all of us? And then part four, how would you do that in the real world? So you’d start like this, and then you’d literally kind of, like, grow, grow. Imagine rings in a pond. It would start in the center, and then, like, the echo would get bigger and bigger. So they see themselves. They’re like, I did that. I did that. Oh, my God, I did that. I did that. And I’m telling you, that building of confidence, it’s this momentum that just carries an internal person forward, upward, and beyond.

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: And if I may add, Tom. And making can be a reflective activity, right? Like, so one of the experiments in the book that is called Build Futures, you can touch because you can make. You know, makes to think, right? Like. Or build to think and think with your hands, right? Like, as you create something, your brain starts, like, seeing other things that, oh, I wasn’t thinking of this, and this gives me other ideas. So making can be a reflective activity as well.

Tom Vander Ark: Let’s grab a couple of other ideas of schools that are putting these practices into motion. Sam, you’ve written a couple of times about a place called Hip-Hop High. How does that work?

Sam Seidel: Well, I think you’ve gotten at a couple of the constraints that most of our schools have. The kind of master schedule, course sequence stuff, the division of subjects, when in real life, we’re rarely doing our math 100% separate from our language arts, 100% separate from our science, right? And so one thing is breaking down some of those artificial, what I would call artificial structures that we’ve created and integrating those subjects to say, okay, if I’m trying to produce a record, what do I need to know about math, science, language arts, humanities, business, all of these things, centering it around the work of production and a real need to know. And I think one of the challenges a lot of times in our schools is that we say, yes, we’ll teach you all of that. 

And then at the very end of your senior year, you get to do a project where you put it all into place. And for some kids that work, they can sort of see that and believe in that light at the end of the tunnel. And for a lot of kids, because it’s like it’s too abstract, it’s too distant. First I need to be frustrated. Why can’t I make this album? Why isn’t this thing happening? And then if you start teaching me sound waves, if you start teaching me the math on whatever it is, I need it now, and I want it. And so you mentioned hip hop high. The formal name is High School for Recording Arts. It’s been running for over 25 years in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is a 

The school leader and founder, David TC Ellis, came up with something called St. Paul Open School. And so he had been in a, and he figured out how to apply it specifically in this area of hip-hop culture and music making. So, I mean, I think that when I hear about the topics that Grace and Leticia and Tunde are talking about, and you’re talking about Tom. I think I see them all playing out in a school like that because young people are doing stuff from start to finish. They’re reflecting and they’re basing it on their principles with their people and their practices. 

Tom Vander Ark: I’m taking a busload of people to high school recording arts next week. So we see Victoria and I see design-based learning surfacing all over Kansas City, where people are sneaking projects and entrepreneurial experiences into existing courses. Cory and Nate are in a CAPS network. You guys are, you’re still within the confines of things called courses. You’re helping kids surface entrepreneurial experiences and projects all over the country. 

Cory Mohn: Absolutely and absolutely. All those constraints. True. I think the key through all this is you have to believe that young people have the ability to shock the world with what they’re capable of when they’re given the chance to lean into what they’re really good at and what they care about. And we know that’s true when you give them authentic work. So do that as early and often as you can. I love the reflection piece, and we’ve been talking here. We need to work more of that into our model. Yeah. Fantastic. 

Tom Vander Ark: The last time I visited them, I reflected because I walked in the front door and three young men were building an airplane in the lobby. So part of your gift is saying yes to crazy stuff. You probably should have stepped back and reflected on how are they going to get that out of the other great examples of design-based learning, inviting kids into work that matters, things that we should surface quickly. The good thing is there’s great stuff happening all over the United States. But we’re acknowledging it’s hard, right? We’ve built a container that almost systematically inhibits the kind of work that we’ve just described. All right, a quick lightning round tech, especially Gen AI. Good, bad. Does it help? How do you see Gen AI surfacing in the hustle? Tunde? Is it Leticia, what’s your take? 

You’re a computational biologist, so you’ve got to be giddy about the possibilities of Gen AI? 

Leveraging AI for Reflection

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Well, my co-advisor in grad school was from computational sciences and computer sciences, but I’m a developmental biologist, which is not quite the same. However, I’ve been experimenting, and I’ve been using generative AI to build Reflection Assistant, a tool for teachers to be able to incorporate reflection in their learning experiences, be it in person or online. Because, as I think – I hope I conveyed – learning doesn’t happen without reflection. But it’s difficult to incorporate reflection at scale in a way that is effective. Providing the opportunity for reflection is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. We also need to provide tools for the students to really do reflection well. So, this tool that we created is called RIFLE. It asks questions to the students, starting with a question that the teacher has asked based on the experience. So, let’s say we do a workshop, we do a class on a certain topic, and the teacher sets the initial question. But then the generative AI is asking the student that question and then generates specific questions based on what they answer. There’s the possibility of really prompting the students to ask themselves questions that get them to go deeper. So, instead of just getting that first one-shot answer that they might give if you asked them to submit a reflection paper, we can get them to be more specific, to notice specific things, to make connections, make inferences, think about the future and what that means for themselves and for how they’re going to show up in the future. So, I think there are a lot of possibilities with the right design. Really thinking about how, if it’s AI, for instance, for what goal? For what purpose? And not just say, “Oh, we just have, like, AI-augmented teachings.” Well, what does that mean? What are specifically you trying to achieve?

And it asks questions to the students, starting with a question that the teacher has said based on the experience, right? Like, let’s say we do a workshop, we do a class on a certain topic, and so the teacher sets the initial question, but then the generative AI asks the student that question and then generates specific questions based on what they answer, right? Like, so there’s the possibility of really prompting the student to ask themselves questions that get them to go deeper. So instead of just getting, like, that first one-shot answer, that if you gave them, it’s like, okay, like, do your reflection here on this discussion board or submit a reflection paper, and they might just, like, say, “Oh, it was great,” right? Like, well, what specifically made it great? And, like, and start getting them to be more specific, to notice specific things, to make connections, make inferences, think about the future and what that means for themselves and for how they’re going to show up in the future. So, I think there are a lot of possibilities with the right design. So really thinking about, like, how, if it’s AI, for instance, for what goal? For what purpose? And not just say, “Oh, we just have, like, AI-augmented teachings.” Well, what does that mean? What are specifically you trying to achieve?

Tom Vander Ark: You just helped me make a connection. I think Ethan Mollick is doing the most interesting work in the country in terms of teaching entrepreneurship at Wharton. And Mollick pointed out the other day, he has a great substack that comes out once a week. You have to read it because it’s just super thoughtful. And he made the point that we’ve raised a generation of kids who think they can Google an answer, and it’s a one-shot answer. He said, this new generation of reasoning engines invites us into an inquiry-based dialogue where we have to get better at asking better questions and that the responses that we’ll get continue to improve as we improve our ability to prompt a response. But it’s the dialogue with a reasoning engine that is the power.

And he’s seeing this inviting young people to use Gen AI to brainstorm ideas for companies and to build new impact organizations. But it’s the reflection. It’s the inquiry-based dialogue that’s key to why this is a different technology than we’re used to. Grace, you’re a bit more circumspect, okay?

Grace Hawthorne: Oh, I know. Okay, so I’m going to take the extreme other side just for this context. Okay? So, as a champion of the analog and a semi-Luddite, okay, I’m going to say that you’re human-powered. Yeah, I’m human-powered. I feel like to solve the world’s messy problems, you have to interact in the built world, and that’s not on a screen, number one. Number two, I love these tools. Technology is a tool, right? So when I think of a tool, what is it? Is it for productivity? Is it for speed? What I realized after we kind of talked about what we’re going to discuss on stage here, and I know AI is such a hot topic, I went back and I thought about, like, why does that scare me? Why do I think it’s incredibly dangerous? I distilled it and tried this on for size. I don’t know if this is where it should go. I feel like AI chat GPT and all these tools are removing processes from our lives. We no longer know how to spell. We don’t write handwriting anymore. I’m telling you, writing cursive and reading script, there’s pattern recognition, there’s geometry. There are so many things that relate to the human condition that we are just no longer doing. And so to me, when I think about AI and chat GPT, it’s like, okay, well, students, they can just write a paper through chat GPT. I’m sorry, but a collection of somebody else’s pieces of information is not an insight. To arrive at an insight, you have to think, and you have to connect the dots, and synthesize stuff on your own with your context.

So, Einstein said it best. There’s information, there’s knowledge, and there’s wisdom. Wisdom only comes from experience. Experience comes from, for me, the process. And if you’re having a machine do it, you’re not processing diddly squat. But that’s just my extreme view. 

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: Yeah, and I think, like, you’re right. And also, like, we, I think there’s, we have to go beyond, and we’re probably past that, like, just thinking about AI, equal chat GPT, right? Chat GPT is a very specific application that is, like, also a generalist application. It’s like a Swiss Army knife, one of those things that, like, does a lot of things, but not one particular thing really well. And so, for instance, when I designed Rif, it was about a very specific need and designing for that. Right? And so I think that’s the best way to go. But also, I think we need to be better at helping learners interact better with multiple types of intelligences, human and artificial, and understand that it’s a process. It’s not just a one-shot.

So, for instance, with the rise of generative AI, I updated the pedagogical contract that I do with the students. And I said, “You may use AI, but it cannot be your whole process. It’s not okay to kind of, like, give. If I give you an assignment, input it into an AI tool, and then get the output and submit it of your own. That’s not okay. However, it is okay if, for part of the process, you use it, and then you’re demonstrating, like, okay, I got this text, I used this, I learned this. And you’re really. It’s kind of, like, part of your process and not your whole. You’re not using it to bypass thinking, reflecting, and synthesizing.

The other thing that I would say is, like, you can also use these tools to actually have learners engage with the world, which you said is key. Right. And so these tools, for instance, the learning experiences that we created at the Discord, unfold. So you are not giving everyone, “Here’s the ten things that you’re going to do in the next hour.” You say, “Tunde, do this,” and then kind of like, “You did this. Great. Now let’s reflect on that. Meet with Grace and talk about this. Now do this.” And so things unfold, and you’re giving instructions as they go. You can do that with chatbots. And I’ve created other non-generative AI chatbots that guide you in engaging with the world, in doing those activities. And it’s like, “Okay, go there and look at that. Great. You did that.”

Take a photo and now do this. Experiences that unfold out in the world. So that’s possible as well.

Tom Vander Ark: All right, Grace, I’m on team possibility.

Grace Hawthorne: Yeah, I’m okay.

Tom Vander Ark: I’m just bringing my algorithm to the party.

Grace Hawthorne: Okay, okay, fine. You can bring it.

Tom Vander Ark: But we can both be champions for possibility.

Thank you. All right, a quick headline on the way out. What’s the big takeaway you want these ed leaders to take from Creative Hustle and our dialogue?

Olatunde Sobomehin: I think I’m most proud of the profiles that we had in the book because I think, and you said it really beautifully, gentlemen on the front row here just talked about, like, what is already happening with our students and how could we name it appropriately? And I think what we’ve named inside of this, inside of the book, is nine profiles of creative hustlers, many of whom, as educators, we probably have all in our classrooms, and we probably have more than we think of. And so they’re navigating and making meaning of their own lives, and that’s valuable. So I think to recognize that and.

Tom Vander Ark: To celebrate it is, well, Letitia, headline?

Dr. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro: So without reflection, learning doesn’t happen, period. So my question to all of you is, where are you allowing reflection to happen for your learners, for your colleagues, for yourself? Right? And you can, like, as you’re waiting for your flight, you can map that out. And then, like, think about, like, well, what can I do differently? How can I embed reflection? It doesn’t take that long. It just takes an intention of that reflection always being part of a learning experience for real learning to happen.

Tom Vander Ark: Grace, take us out.

Grace Hawthorne: So I’m taking you home. The is not about innovations. It’s about innovators. And as educators, I don’t care what part of the organization you guys play a role in. You guys are there transforming people, and that is the gift that keeps on giving. So hats off to all of you in this room, number one. Number two, just start. Like, just begin. I know, like, you might not have the resources. You might not have the environment or whatever it is you think. Have an entrepreneurial mindset. You can get it done. Have the grit. Just do it in a small way, but you can do it. You have all the resources you need to create the future and possibility you want at your organization and in your life. I promise you just have to do the work.
Tom Vander Ark: Thank these amazing authors.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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