If you Google Godfather of Modern Street Skating, Rodney Mullen pops up because he invented most of the tricks performed in the modern era of skateboarding and is the most dominant world champion in the history of the sport. A successful entrepreneur, Rodney co-founded World Industries, which emerged as the largest and most lucrative skate company throughout the 90’s, climaxing in its sale in 1998-then a subsequent sale, two years later. He has started multiple companies under the World umbrella, holds two patents, and is widely credited for creating modern board and wheel designs. In recognition for his creative contributions, Rodney was chosen for a Professional Fellowship at the Smithsonian where one of his signature model skateboards is on display.
Rodney studied chemical engineering at the University of Florida where he ushered into the honorary math society Pi Mu Epsilon as an exception, given it is reserved for mathematical sciences. After selling his business, he found tech/hacker culture to be a blend of skate culture that used his analytic skills; by 2012, he found himself handpicked to elite gathering of mind events in Silicon Valley via Tim O’Reilly’s FoO Camps, hosted over the years at Google X, Facebook, Lyft, and O’Reilly. Soon, other more academic institutions took notice: The National Academy of Sciences featured him in their 2015 study, Educating to Innovate. By 2019, Rodney was named a Director’s Fellow at MIT’s Media Lab, where he is involved in the lab’s work, bringing new perspectives, ideas, and knowledge to projects and initiatives.
Rodney has been in the public eye since his teenage years, accumulating not only a multi-generational fanbase, but also a nonchalance with the spotlight. Since 1982, he’s had countless magazine cover-shots and features, so by the time he was on “That’s Incredible” in the late 80’s, he already had an ease with being on stage. The first real speech he ever did appeared on TED, generating over 1.9 Million views. His skate videos and interviews on YouTube number in the tens of millions of views-just his “Best Of” has over 24 million. Recently, Rodney has been a guest on “Larry King Now” (2019), the viral web series “Impact Theory” (2018), and a viral YouTube channel called “Physics Girl” (2018), where he discussed physics and creativity-an episode that to date has 2.2 Million views. In print, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Vogue all featured articles on Rodney and his release of his last video, Liminal; a video which trended #1 on Facebook for days (July 2016). Such prestigious publications as The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Wired, and Forbes have all written articles on other facets of Rodney’s life.
Videogames and the big screen are also powerful media to feature Rodney. He has starred in nine of Activision’s Tony Hawk (THPS) video game as a skater; in 2020 he was featured in Pretending I’m Superman, a documentary chronicling the game’s dominance. He is also prominently featured in two other acclaimed documentaries, Bones Brigade and Waiting for Lightning. Rodney is so distinctive that Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon video game series modeled a character (a tech genius) after him; failing to find an actor who could portray him authentically, they recruited Rodney-having zero acting experience-to basically play himself in a lead role, for which he was submitted for a BAFTA award. Similarly, HBO writer David Milch offered Rodney to play the “John” in his series John from Cincinnati. Although Rodney declined, HBO still included him in a final episode, skating. Rodney also doubled for Ben Stiller’s incredible skateboarding scene in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Rodney has spoken for a wide variety of prestigious organizations and conferences including: The Smithsonian, Nike, Apple, IBM, Jet Propulsion Lab, MIT, Greylock, TED, PopTech, Wired Magazine’s BizCon, SXSW (Frankfurt), TTI-Vanguard, O’Reilly Tech Conferences, BrainMind Summit, MIT & Stanford Roundtables, Doolittle Institute (an Air Force Research Lab Institute), USC’s Iovine & Yonge Academy, UVA Medical School, and Anna Wintour’s private Editor’s-in-Chief meeting, followed by a subsequent request from the president of Conde Nast’s office to address the broader company.
Rodney still skates two hours a day while nurturing ideas with mostly grad students inside MIT Media Lab. Between appearances, he’s working on an AR Game for skating, as well as an eagerly awaited autobiography, and remains close to his beloved skateboard community.
Innovation & Resilience
The creativity evident in Rodney’s skating combined with his engineering background and love for Open Source (computing) inspires him to relate the seemingly disparate subcultures of tech and skateboarding. Innovation through adaptation and reinvention is a central theme that applies to business as well, which Rodney knows from running his own industry-leading businesses.
Skaters hack the world around them by using it in ways never intended, to create something new in the process, which they share in an open source way. This resonance with hacker culture is reciprocal: many of them relate to skate and edgy subcultures, making the analogies and the way they’re communicated not only readily understood, but surprisingly fresh and accurate. Rodney explores how tech companies often embrace a radical “fail fast” ethos to develop new teach to disrupt markets.
Innovation requires experimental, which often results in failure. Whether you’re building a lightbulb or landing a rocket, failure takes different forms. The stigma and anxiety of failures is shown to harm mental fortitude, dampen innovation, and severely reduce productivity, especially at hyper-competitive organizations. Rodney speaks directly to this to help manage and assess risk that inspires us to keep the focus, the passion, the grit and the will to succeed with creativity and invention.
Decades of testing better ways to optimize focus and control when it counts-especially for creatives, executives, and scientists-along with Rodney’s interest in cognitive sciences often brings him into groups where he tends to offer a pragmatic perspective on concentration, proprioception & flow states.
Scott Dadich, WIRED Editor-in-Chief, after Anna Wintour’s Task Force meeting:
“To hold a room with Anna Wintour, David Remnick, Graydon Carter, and others all rapt for the better part of an hour-well, that is quite the feat. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Francesco Benedetti, Post-Doctoral Associate at MIT, President of MIT-FAIL!:
“Rodney’s talk was the most appreciated of the event, and all professors thought he brought a gust of fresh air at MIT.”
Steven Cherry, Director of TTI/Vanguard:
“Talks like Rodney’s never leave one’s mind. The leap from skateboarding to language to AI isn’t nearly as big as it looks.”
Roger Magoulas, VP Strategy + Analytics at O’Reilly Media, Inc.:
“Our geeky audience of data professionals were delighted and enthralled by Rodney’s compelling story of creativity, of learning from failure, and of working in and with a community. Rodney’s humble authenticity, empathy and polymath interests help make his talk transcend topic and become relevant to anyone trying to anyone trying to become a better, more creative learner.”
GreyLock Partners Feedback:
“Elon Musk is always fascinating and inspiring but Rodney Mullen and Jason Kilar were gems I wasn’t expecting.”
“Thought the Rodney Mullen presentation was excellent- great to have something that’s a bit outside the box, compliments to all the tactical stud (scaling, growth, competing).”
“I confess I was rolling my eyes when Rodney Mullen got up. But he was absolutely phenomenal. Poetry, sheer poetry.”
“I enjoyed the variety. Rodney was incredible. It’s nice to hear from great leaders outside tech as well, but whose lessons can be transposed onto tech.”
“Found Rodney and Elon to be incredibly inspirational.”
Sundance Review of Bones Brigade Documentary by Allistair Pinsof, on flixit.com:
“Rodney Mullen is the introverted genius who single-handedly reinvented the sport by creating the ground ollie. He is one of the most captivating interview subjects I’ve ever seen in a documentary. He speaks pure poetry with a grave intensity that had me hanging onto his every word.”
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