I’ve always loved exploring different fields. At Stanford, I had the opportunity to major in Product Design an interdisciplinary major where I explored psychology, art design and mechanical engineering. I started out my career on a traditional engineering path, designing mobile satellite communication systems but I quickly discovered that my brain craved a more creative application of my engineering background.
My favorite project in college was designing a set of life size building blocks so I decided to cold call toy companies I admired until I found one that would hire me. After some fast talking, the first company I called, LeapFrog, a startup at the time that produced educational children’s toys, brought me on board. I loved the challenge, the creativity and the impact of designing educational toys. One of my favorite toys that I developed was called the Twist and Shout and taught multiplication equations set to a hip hop beat. The toy was an instant hit. Oprah named it as one of the best Christmas toys of 1998. It was such a thrill to see a young girl on her show doing multiplication tables with a big smile on her face.
I worked on over a dozen toys in half a dozen languages distributed around the world and the letters that we received from children and parents about the impact of the toys on their lives kept me going during eighty hour works weeks for years. I became very interested with the potential that business can have to drive change and to create a positive impact on the world. So I decided to go to business school at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business to study social entrepreneurship.
Since business school I’ve had the chance to study different models and strategies for affecting positive social and environmental change on our world and our communities. What drew me to toy design now draws me to sustainable social entrepreneurship. It’s from this diverse background that I also draw my twin passions in writing for technological innovation and for creating significant social change through entrepreneurial ventures.
You’re the managing director for The Center for Sustainable Enterprise. Can you tell us a little bit about the Center and the work you do there?
The Center for Sustainable Enterprise (CSE) is an academic research center at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. The center studies how business can drive global social and environmental change. I’ve had the pleasure of working at the Center for almost five years. First to launch and manage BASE, UNC’s Business Accelerator for Sustainable Entrepreneurship, a business incubator that helped to grow what we call “triple bottom line” businesses, businesses that measure success in terms of a of people, planet and profit. And now, as the managing director of the center where I have an opportunity to do everything from write academic articles, to work with students on career development to designing the curriculum.
My day job definitely provides we with a lot of inspiration for my evenings and weekends of writing. I’m inspired by the businesses we work with from Fortune 500 companies to start-up ventures, that are developing new and innovative ways to safeguard our planet and have a positive impact on our communities all while making a profit. I’m inspired by the students and alums from the program whose personal visions to use business as a tool to make the world a better place only grows as they progress in their degrees and their careers. I’m inspired by the people I work with who have made a lifelong commitment, against all odds, to turn a business school into not just a rigorous academic institution but an incubator for change. Can you tell I love my job? If I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to pull myself away from writing.
Here’s the big question: What motivated you to start writing fiction?After leaving LeapFrog, I started doing consulting work for smaller start-up toy companies where I would work for several months and then take a few weeks off to travel. As a way to continue to explore the creative side of my brain, I started out writing nonfiction travel stories as I traveled around the world in my twenties. Before then, I shied away from creative writing because I thought of myself as an engineer.
I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way while traveling across Australia and wrote in big capital letters at the close of the book, I WILL WRITE A NOVEL. Reading the book was a transformative process that exposed the writer in me. Now, I’m inspired to write because I see storytelling as a compelling mode to engage people in big ideas. My hope is that everyone who reads my work will think about how they can find their personal path to leaving this world better than the way they found it. I also just love writing. I’ve never had a moment of writer’s block. The page is the one place I can funnel all of the ideas swirling around in my head. With a generous amount of editing, those ideas can be transformed into a story and even a novel, or two or three.
|How Not to Save the World by Jessica Yinka Thomas|