Executive Director of Project H Design Director of Creativity at REALM Charter School

On one arm Emily Pilloton wears colorful string bracelets woven by her students. On the other she wears a sleekly designed smart watch. Like all DEOs, she is a study in contrasts. A self-admitted nerd who loves math and art. A teacher who loves structure and chaos. A woman who is empathetic and fierce.

We met Pilloton on a warm evening in an Oakland neighborhood café. Although tired from weeks of running her newest venture, Studio G, she took time to share the story of her young but impressive career.

Can you recall any early childhood experiences that shaped you?


Curator for TED Conferences

Chris Anderson could easily hide in a crowd. His quiet demeanor seems more suited to a chemist or minister than the curator of TED, the wildly successful nonprofit media phenomenon devoted to “ideas worth spreading.”

We interviewed Anderson in his New York office, where modern furnishings and warm hardwood floors coexist comfortably. With the sounds of the city in the background, he described a career that only a DEO could have designed.

As a child, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a vet. My dad was a doctor. I wanted to be…


Professional Inventor at Mattson

Steve smiles comfortably and settles into a chair. He has an air of contentment that hides a thirst for discovery and a passion for invention. As Creative Director (and formerly its CEO) of Mattson, one of the country’s foremost food research and development labs, he spends his days mixing chemistry and culinary arts.

We talked with Gundrum one afternoon over iced lattes at a local Starbucks. Surrounded by the products and experience of his passion, he described a career that’s one part scientist and one part artist — the perfect recipe for a DEO.

As a child, what did you…


President and CEO of Rickshaw Bagworks

Mark bounds into his office in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood like a ten-year-old kid. On paper, he’s the founder and CEO of Rickshaw Bagworks, a company inspired by creative energy, urban cycling, and a strong set of humanistic, environmental, and social values. In person, he’s a happy DEO who’s built his dream manufacturing “fort” and plays there daily with his friends.

We interviewed Dwight in the midst of the bustling warehouse where Rickshaw makes and sells its bags. Surrounded by the sounds of his business, he explained a career filled with equal measures of passion and iteration.

As a child…


Entrepreneur and author

Jesse smiles as though she’s shy. At heart, she may be, but in practice she’s an extroverted DEO who has greeted and fed thousands of customers, including Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. The creative force behind five unique restaurants and seven cookbooks, she’s dedicated herself to sustainable agriculture and cuisine for over thirty-five years.

We interviewed Cool at her home in Palo Alto, California, after a tour of her vegetable garden, fruit trees, and chicken coop. …


Interactive artist and engineer

Ayah Bdeir is an interactive artist and engineer with the elegance and composure of a diplomat. She is the creator and CEO of littleBits, an open source library of modules that snap together, making it easy to prototype, learn, and have fun with electronics. Bdeir’s goal is to move electronics from the hands of experts to those of artists, makers, students, and designers — a vision quite worthy of a DEO.

We interviewed Bdeir in a brightly colored conversation pit at a TED conference in Long Beach, California. With crowds milling about and the next session rapidly approaching, she calmly…


(former) President & CEO of Autodesk

Carl’s presence fills any room he enters, not because his ego pushes others out, but because his demeanor welcomes and connects with everyone around him. In title, he is the president and CEO of Autodesk (now retired), a $2 billion corporation that creates 3-D design software that’s used around the world. In practice, he’s a DEO.

We interviewed Bass on a sunny afternoon in the Berkeley shop he shares with a friend. Surrounded by traditional woodworking implements, repurposed discards, and a state-of-the-art robotic lathe, he explained how he built his career and crafted his life.

As a child, what did…


Putting a traditional CEO at the front of a modern workforce is anachronistic. He or she is the outdated, boxy TV in an era of flat screens, the heavy-hulled yacht struggling to keep up in the America’s Cup.

Ask recruiters to describe the characteristics of a traditional CEO. They’ll first mention the need for an MBA and the disciplined financial perspective that degree implies. Nearly 40 percent of current CEOs add “MBA” to their collection of capitalized initials.

Next, they’ll often list traits associated with military commanders: authoritative, strategic, able to delegate, decisive, prepared to lead, equipped with a big-picture perspective. Finally, they’ll suggest that the ideal CEO has some humanistic touches as well: personable, charismatic, perhaps a dash of compassion.

These traits have served companies well over the past century. When assembly lines traversed the Midwest and…


Original. This coveted description brands jeans, art, recipes, and even sin. It signifies something unique and not derivative, something rare or noteworthy. Originality is what others are drawn to copy or driven to acquire. But for a DEO, originality isn’t a quest or a creative goal. For a DEO, being an original is the only option.

Most people pay lip service to being original. They post Apple’s “Think Different” prose on the wall and praise uniqueness as necessary, but they shy away from it in practice. Although we’re all born originals (at least until cloning becomes practical), we quickly discover the high cost of maintaining our individuality. Social, educational, and business processes are set up to encourage and reward status quo thinking and behavior. Fitting in requires much less effort than standing out.

Being original is also risky. Ironically, this seems even more true in businesses going through transition or struggling to remain competitive. Andrew S…


Generosity is often equated with charity. It evokes the image of Daddy Warbucks magnanimously sharing his wealth with the destitute Little Orphan Annie. DEOs are generous, but they don’t see themselves as modern-day benefactors of the less fortunate. DEOs give because it’s creative.

We’re trained as children to share, to be generous, and to let others use our toys. This requires repeated instruction, because sharing something means we get less of it for ourselves. It diminishes our control and ownership.

This early training, while civilized and admirable, reinforces a worldview where resources are limited. The supply of money, time, and things is finite — a pie that cannot grow larger as it’s divided into pieces.

This worldview persists as we grow older and are prompted to volunteer our time, pledge our money, and donate our unused stuff as a sign of our unselfishness…

Maria Giudice & Christopher Ireland

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store