“Nine-to-five is how to survive, I ain’t trying to survive I’m tryna live it to the limit and love it a lot” —JAY-Z, “D’EVILS”
In the twenty-five years since Jay-Z first rapped this line, he has released fourteen albums, founded a clothing company, served as president of a record label, taken charge of a media streaming service, become hip-hop’s first billionaire, and started a charitable foundation— and he is raising three children. These accomplishments were stated as goals in his lyrics over the years, and he has used his gifts to achieve them, all in the face of institutional racism and socioeconomic oppression. This is creative hustle: the unprescribed process, outside and inside of institutions, beyond mere survival, where our best innovation lives. Creative hustle is about activating our gifts to fulfill our goals.
There is creative hustle inside us all. This book is about helping you find and fuel yours. “The World Needs Your Creative Hustle
We see creative hustle as the engine to fulfilling and surpassing one’s goals. It’s about living a life of integrity that taps into core values, relationships, and behaviors to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. Creative hustle is about dreaming big in every direction. Let’s deconstruct the phrase to get deeper into its meaning. Creative
can be a fraught word. Perhaps you’ve sat in a room where someone has asked everyone to raise a hand if they consider themselves to be an artist. In a room full of five-year-olds, chances are almost every hand shot into the air. In a room full of adults, it’s likely only a few hands went up—at half-mast. Why? As our brains grow and develop, why do most people become less able to be creative or less able to claim it as part of our identity?
Filmmaker and futurist Erwin McManus reflected in his book The Artisan Soul
that after thirty years studying creativity, he sees that “the great divide is not between those who are artists and those who are not, but between those who understand that they are creative and those who have become convinced that they are not.” Much of our society has been constructed to discourage people from acting on their imaginations. And yet, we believe the world can be a more just and more beautiful place, and that getting there will require all of us to tap back into the creative confidence we had as children.
“I’m a hustler, baby, I just want you to know. It ain’t where I’m from, it’s where I’m about to go.” —PHARRELL, “I JUST WANNA LOVE U (GIVE IT 2 ME)”
The word hustle
has a lot of different meanings and interpretations: It’s a ’70s dance step. A con. Getting something over on someone. Rushing oneself or someone else. There are some negative connotations here, but the word also represents a strong work ethic and indefatigable energy.
Over the last several decades, hip-hop culture has redefined hustle to celebrate the determined drive required to thrive in the face of interlocking systems designed to subjugate. To hustle is to refuse to accept one’s current conditions. It can refer to illegal activity, and it can just as easily be used to describe making music, selling sneakers, and starting schools. We see hustle as the positive act of taking any idea and applying tenacity to making it happen.
When we bring the words creative and hustle together their meanings are amplified. Creative hustle
is the alchemy of imagination and ambition that will enable you to apply your gifts to reach your goals. As an action, creative hustle goes beyond the conventional to new ways of thinking and doing; as a person, a creative hustler is someone who seeks to live beyond the limits set around them.
Human beings have always been creative hustlers—just look to our ancient ancestors, huddled together, cold and in the dark, figuring out how to make fire for the first time. Today we see examples of creative hustle when scientists engineer new ways to harvest renewable energy, or musicians figure out how to share their art with people across the world through social media channels. To be human is to bleed an amalgam of imagination and ambition.
Different cultures have different words for this type of ingenuity-in-action. Writer Dayo Olopade uses the word kanju to describe “the specific creativity born from African difficulty.” In India, it’s called jugaad
; in Brazil, it’s gambiarra
; in China, you’ll hear zizhu chuangxin
; and in France, système D
. sam is in a collective that defines it as hip-hop genius
, and we use creative hustle
. Whatever you call it, it is more essential than ever right now.
Slowing climate change, keeping people well in the face of global health crises, and obliterating racism will require unprecedented levels of imagination and action. As the authors of this book, we—Olatunde and sam—are obsessed with figuring out how to make beautiful change happen.
Soon after we met and discovered this common passion, we decided to design and teach a course together at the Stanford d.school. We called it “Creative Hustle.” And our goal was to both teach and learn with our students how to amp up our imaginations and ambitions. Half of our students in that initial class were from Stanford, where sam works, and the other half were from Olatunde’s nonprofit organization, StreetCode Academy. After having a powerful experience with that class, we began remixing our activities into workshops that we shared at conferences and in online sessions. We kept learning. And now, through this book, we want to continue to learn, grow, and share with you.
Olatunde has led organizations and businesses guided by his faith and family. sam has written books and designed schools with the goal of centering culture and community. When we began to unpack what and how we’ve learned from our collective eighty-plus years of experience, we found that one of our greatest assets is the plethora of brilliant people from whom we’ve had the opportunity to learn. As we shared gems we’ve collected from our respective communities, we agreed that it was irresponsible to keep all of those lessons to ourselves.
The heart of this book is the stories we have garnered from conversations with nine of the people we are most inspired by in the world. We have personally built with each of these creative hustlers, and they make stuff happen!
While we could write volumes about them, we’ve identified one key lesson from each person that will help you turbocharge your creative hustle.
Copyright © 2022 by Olatunde Sobomehin, sam seidel, and Stanford d.school. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.