Karla Valenti – Founder of Rock Thoughts

Karla Valenti is corporate attorney who recently left a career in law to found a company focused on developing and implementing resources designed to empower children through creativity. Rock Thoughts is the first initiative she is spearheading under this new role. She also writes Tot Thoughts , a blog focused on raising intelligent, creative and empowered children.

[quote style=”boxed”]It is devastating to invest one’s time, energy, heart, and money on idea that has “failed.”  What I have learned, however, is that the idea need not be deemed a failure simply because the original iteration of it is no longer valid. If an idea is treated organically and given room to expand, grow, and change, it will likely flourish in novel and perhaps more meaningful ways.[/quote]

What are you working on right now?

I am presently focused on developing Rock Thoughts, a global art and collaborative storytelling initiative. The premise is simple: participants paint rocks to resemble “monsters” and hide the rocks in public spaces for others to find. Each rock is given a specific code and linked back to our site through our site’s URL, both of which areprinted on the underside of the rock. The finders of the rocks use these monsters as plot devices for stories they submit to our site.

The rocks are then re-hidden for others to find and continue developing the monster’s narrative. Participants can also adopt previously painted rocks that are featured on our site or collaborate on a form of crowdsourced storytelling.

The underlying objective behind Rock Thoughts is to provide a space where people from all over the world can share their different backgrounds, cultures, languages, and knowledge in a collaborative experience, working together to create something new. This createdcontent carries the indelible stamp of those who made it and serves as a bond, linking different people together though their shared output.

The experience is not only a virtual one, however but is equally grounded in a real and tangible object that serves as the genesis for creative inspiration. At the moment, Rock Thoughts is “live” throughout the US, Mexico and Switzerland and we feature stories inEnglish and in Spanish and we are continuing to expand both the scope and reach of the project.

Rock Thoughts has been receiving very positive acclaim and feedback since we launched in April. The site was recently featured in Springwise as a project of interest and has been noted by Brainpickings and Canadian-based Trendhunter. In addition, Rock Thoughts is currently being used as a learning tool in the educational community. I am working with a number of teachers who have integrated this concept into their art program and literacy curriculum and preschools that are using it to encourage creative development. Anumber of other schools across the U.S. have expressed interest in participating in this project the Fall. I am also in talks with the Chicago Children’s Museum as well as a major children’s museum in Mexico to find ways to incorporate this initiative into theireducational programming. Finally, as we feature free content in multiple language, I have reached out to various language programs to develop this tool into a resource inspiring reading and writing in multiple languages.

What does your typical day look like?

The morning usually entails getting my 7 year old and 4 year old fed, clothed and out the door for school as well as tending to my eight-month old son. Once the majority of the crew is out the door and the baby is entertained, I check/respond to emails and prepare my post for Tot Thoughts. I spend quite a bit of time on this as I want it to be a thoughtful and valuable resource for my readers. While I do include humorous anecdotes or pieces of flash fiction, most of my posts are essays on education and empowerment.

Throughout the day and in between the baby’s feedings and naps, I spend quite a bit of time reading through various sites, blogs, books and articles that deal with issues relating to education, child development, creativity and culture in general (a few recommendations are set forth below) and collect various resources of interest to postonto the Tot Thoughts Facebook page and my Twitter account. I also try to respond to any emails and comments that come in as promptly as possible (old habits from working in a highly service-driven industry) so I check my various accounts regularly and respond accordingly.

Finally, I make it a point to reach out to people and share the Rock Thoughts concept on a daily basis. I try to connect with at least five people (either through direct correspondence or via comments on their sites) every day.

Once my kids are out of school, my time becomes mostly theirs until later in the evening when I check emails again and update my Facebook and Twitter feeds with whatever new information has surfaced throughout the day.

3 trends that excite you?

  • Collaborative learning and open content.
  • Virtual learning tools and game-based learning
  • Creative social movements.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think of ideas as living forces that need to be nurtured, stimulated, prodded, shared, exposed to the elements and nourished along the way by the original creator and others whom it impacts. Ideation is a dynamic and constructive exercise. With that in mind, once an idea arises, I try to capture the general concept very loosely and in simple terms (with Rock Thoughts, it was the notion of enabling people to connect through public art and to use that connection to create something meaningful) and then I let the details of how the idea is going to be shaped unfold as the idea develops.

For me, an idea develops by “playing” with it: envisioning and testing it in different scenarios in which the idea could be applied, sharing it with others to see how they employ the idea, paying close attention to areas where the idea seems to falter and finding ways of either circumventing those or adapting the idea to overcome them.  I view this as a very organic process that requires a lot of flexibility at the onset and willingness to accept the different variations that this process begets. One of the most important elements in my ideation process is to be open to unique and unusual opportunities. When I comeupon something that resonates with me (whether or not it seemingly relates to my idea) or encounter someone doing something amazing, I make an effort to try to customize my idea to the new opportunity or find a way to fit it in to what others are doing. Indeed, a number of my favorite Rock Thoughts features have originated from this process.

Finally, I find it very helpful to always have a written statement of my idea and make it a point to regularly revisit it. Thus, as the idea flourishes, so does the written statement. This helps me keep the idea grounded on the fundamentals while I explore the boundaries.

What inspires you?

Empowered individuals (people who are able to use their multiple intelligences and imagination to impact others and the world around them in a meaningful way) and the opportunity to collaborate with them in creative endeavors.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

There are many mistakes that one makes along the way in bringing an idea to life, some more challenging than others. The biggest mistake we can make however, is to become overwhelmed by these challenges. The key is to not be discouraged by the inevitability (and sometimes the effect) of our mistakes but to learn how to adapt the concept to overcome the mistakes. This was a hard lesson for me to learn.

I began designing creative projects over two years ago and my first idea met with a tremendous amount of challenges that made me feel defeated before I had even had a chance to start. Some sound advice and a solid support network kept me in place and pushed me to rework the idea. I changed it many times over and Rock Thoughts originated from one such change. My next two projects stemmed from another such change.  Had I stuck with the initial concept and tried to make it fit despite the constraints that arose, I’m not sure that it would have nearly as successful. However, once I recognized that a certain degree of flexibility was needed and I opened myself up to following the idea in its various permutations, I landed on a revised concept that has worked quite well.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Find ways to make your idea relevant to others and don’t be afraid to present it to them.  A good idea may go far on its own but an idea that supports or enhances other people’s ideas is likely to have a bigger impact (and incidentally, serves as a testament to the tremendous power of collaboration).

What do you read every day, and why?

I am an avid reader and have a particular fondness for print matter (with the exception of Brainpickings which is a brilliant on-line compendium of ideas and inspiration). What I read on a day to day may vary but generally includes something from within the following:

fiction (favorites include: Jose Saramago, Salman Rushdie, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Isabel Allende). I am a storyteller and the stories that others tell have always been important to me.  These writers in particular are not only gifted storytellers but offer beautiful and moving narratives of life.

child development or creativity (currently: Mind in the Making). While ultimately I form my own opinions on the matter, I find much inspiration from reading how others think about education, child development and creativity.

philosophical or ideological concepts (currently: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow”). I am a lifelong learner and aspire to teach my children the same. To that end, a big part of my day involves working through my own metaphysical queries and finding ways of living a better and more meaningful life.

entrepreneurship (currently: Inc. Magazine). This is a new area for me and I have a lot to learn. Inc. Magazine is an incredible resource for entrepreneurs.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

Anything by Howard Gardner. His multiple intelligence theory is a powerful approach to understanding how we learn and create.

Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?

Brainpickings – an amazing resource of smart writing and thoughtful content curated by an incredibly bright woman.

Candy Chang – a visionary public installation artist, designer, urban planner and co-founded of Civic Center.

Jodi Ettenberg – a former lawyer-cum-world traveler who blogs about her riveting life-findings at Legal Nomads.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Maria Popova. Candy Chang.

When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it.

I laugh out loud every day and 90% of the time it involves something one of my kids have done. To be fair, I also probably scream out loud every day (for the same reason).

What is the next step for your current idea?

First, I am eager to expand the reach of the project into other countries. We are currently in various states throughout the U.S, in Mexico and in Switzerland. I am hoping to take this project into as many countries as possible. I am also hoping to expand our repertoire of foreign language stories. We currently feature stories in English and in Spanish but the project is, by its very nature, unlimited in the languages we can cover.

Second, I am building a team around the world to help coordinate a global “monster” hunt. We will place limited edition monster rocks throughout the world and set up a treasure hunt on our site. Clues will be provided on a regular basis to help the monster hunters track the rocks and we will offer content (i.e. information, photos, commentary) about the places in which the rocks are hidden to make this not only a fun but informative experience. I am currently recruiting volunteers to assist with this process.

Third, I am focused on expanding the scope of this project to reach children in disempowered situations. For instance, we’d like to partner with programs that work with children with disabilities, children’s hospitals, and schools or centers that cater to low-income communities. This project has great potential to be a safe, engaging and powerful tool of empowerment for these children. Any recommendations or assistance in this regard is greatly appreciated.

Finally, we have received requests from around the world to have the site translated into other languages. We would love to be able to offer that as a feature to non-English speakers.

How do you cope with an idea that has failed?

It is devastating to invest one’s time, energy, heart, and money on idea that has “failed.”  What I have learned, however, is that the idea need not be deemed a failure simply because the original iteration of it is no longer valid. If an idea is treated organically and given room to expand, grow, and change, it will likely flourish in novel and perhaps more meaningful ways.


Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @totthoughts
LinkedIn: Karla Valenti