May 2016

Darryl Hicks Says: Creativity Will Boost Your Business

When I say the word “intelligence,” you may associate that word with science or mathematics, because they are measurable. While scoring high on a college placement exam may set you above the rest, there’s an even more important element that’s hard to test: creativity.

My name is Darryl Hicks, CEO of Tungsten Solutions, and I’m a huge believer in the power of creativity. It’s easy to fall into the routine of a 9-5 job, or maybe a hobby or two, just for the purpose of survival. But true success comes from beyond that, and getting there comes from creativity.

There are several stages to the creative process; if you own a business, utilizing these can boost your productivity in new ways.

Stage 1: Imagination/Inspiration

You might think of imagination and creativity as being very similar. They are not; imagination is part of the creative process. Picture a problem you’ve been having lately. Is your business too quiet on certain days of the week? Are your employees not motivated? Did you get a negative review about something? Imagine a creative solution to this problem.

Equally important is inspiration. What inspires you? Your inspiration is the key to your imagination. Take a close look at your role models; we all had one at one point or another. What would they do? What decision would your ideal self make? Will you regret that decision in the future? Questions like this are important for reaching a strong inspiration, and a better outcome.

Stage 2: Invention

If your creative idea is a good one, it’s time to test it out. Create your idea and see how it works. Remember, in order for it to be creative, it has to be something that can come from only you. If Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone, would it ever have been invented? Yes, because there was a need for the technology and the science was advanced enough to make it. But if Shakespeare hadn’t written Hamlet, would it ever have been on stage? No. Theatrical performances would have lived on, but no one could have created Hamlet the way Shakespeare did.

Stage 3: Application

No idea is foolproof. Even after you create it, consider it a work in progress. If it’s an idea for your business, test it out for a while; you may want to make further changes once you see how customers react to it. Nothing should be set in stone, including your ideas and creativity.

If you have any questions, or if you want to bounce some creative ideas around with me, I’d be more than interested to hear what you have to say. Drop me a line at Darryl Hicks Tungsten, and we can inspire each other to new heights.

The Body’s Most Powerful Muscle (It’s Not What You Think)

Your body is a machine. It is full of parts that need to be well-oiled and maintained, in order to work properly. But there’s one part that is highly under-utilized.

Exercising this muscle activates a slew of positive effects. Not only can it improve your mood and reduce stress, but it can do the same for people who watch you do the exercise. And the best part? It takes seconds to do, and doesn’t tire you out.

The muscle in question is the corners of your mouth. Exercising them has more of an impact on your mood than you would think. Here’s how to do that:

  • Raise the corners of your mouth as high as they will go. You are now smiling.
  • Breathe in as much air as you can, and hold it for 5 seconds.
  • Release your breath in short bursts. You are now laughing.

It’s as simple as that. Don’t worry about whether or not the smile is real or warranted; the effect is the same. The act of smiling actually releases endorphins from your brain, which really does make you feel better.

Take it from me, Darryl Hicks. I smile all the time, and it helps me function at my best throughout the day. And, because I work with so many people at Tungsten, my good mood helps them feel better too, and increases their productivity. All that from the corners of your mouth!

On the flip side, letting yourself frown can have negative effects on yourself and the people around you. Emotions are contagious; if you want everyone around you to be happy and productive, start with yourself. Trust me, you will be happy with the result.

For more helpful words of advice, check out our facebook page, where we have links to other articles. Or, visit our website at Darryl Hicks Tungsten.

10 Ways to Make Today Better than Yesterday

We all have good days, where everything goes our way. We also all have all-too-frequent bad days, where it seems like everything goes wrong. Both kinds of days may seem inevitable, but what if I told you there are steps you can take, so your bad days are bearable, and your good days are even better?

People often ask me: “Darryl Hicks, you’re the CEO of two Tungsten companies, and you’ve got so much on your plate. How do you stay positive?” The secret lies in making sure every day is an improvement upon yesterday. Here are 10 ways I accomplish that; try them out and see if they work for you.

  • Slow Down

If you’ve ever watched NASCAR, then you’ve probably seen the spectacular wrecks that happen in every race. Those cars go over 200 miles per hour, which is the key ingredient for those disasters. Your life, however, is not a race. So why are you racing through your tasks? Learn to slow down, and make your work more about being high-quality than about getting 100 things done in an hour.

  1. Be around positive people

Do you want to be more positive? If you surround yourself with people who complain a lot, it’s going to be several times harder for you. Take a look at all the good qualities of people, and find those with the qualities you want to inherit. Trust me, it works.

  1. Talk it out

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people complain about someone else, and then not talk to them about it. How is the problem supposed to be fixed if you don’t do anything about it? Whether it’s a boss, family member, significant other, or anyone in-between, don’t be afraid to sit down and talk to them. You’ll both feel better about it in the long run.

  1. Partner Up

After all, what if you need their help? No one can do everything by themselves, no matter how successful they are. Need proof? Watch an award show like the Oscars, and count how many times the words “thank you” are thrown around. There’s nothing wrong with needing a hand, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for one.

  1. Take a Leap

Have a big decision you’ve been mulling over? Go for it! Don’t let anything hold you back. Often, one of the biggest regrets people have in life is not taking enough chances. Don’t let that one be yours.

  1. Prioritize your Health

Staying positive is harder when you’re sick in bed. Don’t put off visits to the doctor or the dentist. Pencil in an appointment or two now.

  1. Thank People More

Saying thank you is good for both parties involved. Think of someone who has had a positive impact on you lately, and take time to thank them. Better yet, thank them in writing; I find it has a greater impact that way.

  1. Give Back

Take thanking a step further: give a gift of gratitude. Or, give to a stranger, or a charity. Studies have shown, people who give often are more optimistic about their impact with the world, and are therefore happier.

  1. The Three-Letter Word

Ask yourself “Why?” Why do you do what you do? Keep the big picture and your larger goals in mind. If you’re in charge of other people, communicate the why to them, so they understand why their work is important as well. The best teams all have the same mission in mind.

  1. Forgive and Forget

Holding grudges is bad for stress levels. Learn to forgive these people, and forget their past wrongs, especially if they are asking for it.

If you have any questions with any of these ten, drop me a line at Darryl Hicks Tungsten, and I’ll review your case and help you however I can. After all, helping people is my way of giving back and staying positive; what’s yours?

Why is School Still Broken?

Ten years ago Ken Robinson stepped onto the stage at the TED Conference in Monterey, California, and delivered the inspired talk How School Kills Creativity.  It remains the #1 most watched and most shared TED Talk in the history of TED, with 39,058,000 views (as of May 17, 2016) and counting.

Six years later, Seth Godin published the manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams that took on the daunting question: What is school for? He challenged fellow parents all over the world to share it with the teachers of their children. Millions have done so.

It’s amazing how many parents [I talk to] complain about the school system our kids are in. And yet, real progress continues to exist only on the periphery. Why? If so many parents believe that school in its current form is broken, why won’t the school system change?

As a Dad of three beautiful kids—as well as a passionate entrepreneur who embraces the need to adapt quickly to changing realities lest my company risk an ignoble death on the unforgiving altar of competitive free markets—I got curious and started digging.

Is the root problem that school systems and bureaucracy are simply so large and cumbersome that attempting meaningful redirection is like trying to quickly turn the Titanic? Or is something else, something deeper going on?

Can We Really Throw Away the Ball?

I met Max Ventilla for the first time on a private Google Hangout two years ago. Why does an EVP at Google—a company that rolls out the red carpet and gives you the keys to the kingdom in a place like the Bay Area—leave it all behind to build a startup on education? I was so inspired and blown away with what Max is doing at Alt School that I’ve shared the video of our conversation with over a hundred people directly.

Attempting to iterate on the education system’s current status quo is like pretending you’re changing a ball of elastics by winding a few new ones around it. Alt School throws away the ball and challenges everything we believe about school, from the ground up.

Since I couldn’t shut up about the work they’re doing—and trusting my entrepreneurial instincts to “go where attention flows”—I started looking for ways to jump on board. Why should looking after two growing businesses, thirteen JV partners, three young kids, one amazing wife, charitable commitments, and a few health concerns prevent me from jumping in, right?

After learning about about their Founding Families program, I asked for more details. After spending some time with their Head of Special Projects and COO, I started looking into what it would take to set up an Alt School in Montreal.

Along the way I discovered a dirty little secret that [in my opinion] explains in large measure why school remains broken. I’d like to let you in on it.

The Education System’s Dirty Little Secret

In every state and province in North America, governments fund private (charter) and public schools with a per-student subsidy. Here in Quebec (Canada), the government subsidy per student is the largest of any province or state on the continent: private schools receive grants that allow them to discount tuition by 70% per year.  This explains in large part why private schools are so popular [and affordable] in Quebec. Did you know that 30% of all high school students in Montreal attend a private school?

On the surface it sounds like a great moral victory, increasing access to high quality education for students. However, dig just a little deeper, and you’ll discover a bit of a hidden agenda and some massive strings to that money.

For starters, curriculum is fixed. Testing is standardized. Adherence to [downright shameful] French language admission standards is enforced. In short, total control is exercised over the fundamentals of curriculum, syllabus, and pedagogy.

Now to be fair, there is more to school than the curriculum.

A school administrator with decades of first-hand experience once told me there are three important elements to a school education:

#1) Pedagogical approach, including curriculum,

#2) Culture, including what is celebrated and encouraged outside of the curriculum,

#3) Everything else a student needs to be well-rounded and prepared for life in the real world.

Schools have little to no control over #1 if they want the government funding. In Quebec there are so many tightly-controlled rules that one school administrator joked with me that ‘she wouldn’t be surprised to see font type and font size enforced for report cards in 2016.’ The heavy hand of regulation on curriculum and pedagogy is that pervasive.

So what is a school to do?

It’s forced to differentiate on #2 and #3.

This explains why the over 100 private schools in Montreal talk with great pride about their sports training, their indoor hockey rink, their amazing music program, their leadership program, and their amazing teachers who are paid well in excess of the industry average. When my wife and I were exploring these schools to choose the right one for our three young kids, none of them said “this is how we teach and test differently from everyone else.” Knowing that millions of parents seem to think school is broken, this glaring omission caught me off guard.

Of course, now I know the backstory, and so do you.

The True Cost of Innovation

If a school wanted to create a completely new syllabus and a new way of teaching—one that celebrates innovation, creativity, taking chances, failing, and research skills over rote and memorization—they must refuse government funding.

The average cost of tuition for a private school in Montreal currently stands at $10,000 per student, per year. If a [new] school believed that it was so important to change pedagogy that it would be willing to turn down the hefty gov’t subsidies, the cost of tuition would instantly go through the roof. Granted, there is waste in maintaining the bureaucratic overhead that complying with gov’t standards demands, so if you assume a school could survive with only a fraction of the administrative staff, maybe the tuition would come down to [only] $25-30K per year.

Still, how is that competing?

You’d need to find a base of well-heeled parents who are so passionate about the need for a complete re-think on school—and who believe that you can deliver on this brave new world—that they’d gladly cough up tens of thousands of extra dollars for education every single year.  And then you’d need to find enough of them to fill up a school with enough children to attain the needed economies of scale.

At present, this alternative too expensive, by design.

To be clear, I believe that most people who work in the public school system anywhere in North America mean well. But they’re trapped in a slow-moving bureaucracy with little accountability and a fuzzy mandate. At the same time, looking to private schools to lead the charge on finding a better way is also looking in the wrong place; even if private schools wanted to change, their hands are tied.


This is why innovation in the education space will come from where it’s always come: the brilliant founders, inventors and innovators who are so passionate about their mission in life that they take enormous risks and make the leap to do great work.

Like Elon Musk at Tesla. Do you think people buy his electric cars because there’s a gov’t subsidy attached, or because Tesla makes cool cars with an amazing story behind them?

Education is supposed to equip kids with the mental, emotional and physical toolbox needed to thrive in adulthood. I have 120 employees between my two businesses, and every day my management team has to de-program beliefs and habits these people learned in school and then re-teach how to approach problems in a way that’s relevant to how the world actually works.

Many never make the cut, and that’s sad. It’s not always their fault, either, but I don’t have the luxury of determining what the market demands. I just know what I need in order to respond to those demands and I’m having a harder and harder time finding it.

I’m convinced that with time, institutions like Alt School will slowly work their way through the diffusion of innovations and into the mass market. I’m [deeply] frustrated at how long that’s going to take, however, and how negative incentives continue to artificially delay the process.

If the playing field were more level you’d see more alternative schools. We’d be trying, failing, iterating and working our way to a better formula quickly. Being stuck in the current paradigm is a wasted opportunity.

Of course, this puts even more pressure on parents to close the gap and train their kids to be responsible, fair, upright, productive members of society. Attentive parenting can and does make a huge difference. Many of the entrepreneurs I know talk about how sending their kids to school is something they have to do, but as parents, they assume responsibility to give their kids their “real education” from 3:30-7:30 PM every day.

Guys like Jim Sheils inspire me with their supplemental home schooling programs and family board meetings. Dozens of entrepreneurs in my network take on this kind of load, and move mountains so they can be home when their kids return from school. I’m so inspired by them!

But how many parents can or will do that?

The need for excellent parenting skills aside, if most of us are sending our kids to school anyway, why can’t they learn what they need while they’re sitting in class? At the very least it’s a waste of their time and energy. And our money. Don’t forget the money. At worst, it’s instilling beliefs and habits in our children that are designed for a world that no longer exists.

It makes me sad to know that the next generation [or two] will be ill-equipped to find their way in life, save the handful who’ve always existed in every time period who are fortunate or passionate enough to figure it out on their own.

At least a fortunate handful of folks in New York and California have Alt School. It’s a start.

The Innovations and Initiatives Shaping Our Future—Darryl Hicks from Tungsten Explains Venture Capitalism