Growing Through Adversity: A Spotlight on Taliesha Garrett

Taliesha Garrett

Taliesha Garrett learned early to embrace adversity and challenge herself to stretch to new heights. These lessons have been a driving force in her career and personal life, leading to both success and resilience under pressure.

"I have always had a natural desire to go against the grain, which is what we call innovation nowadays."

Born and raised by a strong single mother, Garrett was taught to rise above your surroundings and work hard for what you want. A biracial woman, she straddled two worlds in her hometown of Tacoma, Washington. In one world many who looked like her dropped out of school; some turned to crime. In the world of her maternal grandmother, the color of her skin made her stand out. Often she felt she didn’t belong to either world.

Following her mother’s advice, she worked hard in high school and graduated with honors. She was accepted to the University of Washington and majored in finance, becoming the only senior in her class to receive a sought-after job at Russell Investments post-graduation. After seven years at Russell honing skills in mutual fund and trust fund analysis, the 2008 stock market crash gave her pause to reflect on her career. She left Russell and subsequently accepted an offer from the Boeing Corporation, drawn by the opportunity to challenge her skills in a new industry. She started in finance but was quickly asked to contribute to other areas including business operations and employee engagement.

Driving Innovation

Garrett says she was noticed at Boeing, where she still works today, in part because of her drive to think outside of the box and approach challenges differently. “I have always had a natural desire to go against the grain, which is what we call innovation nowadays.”

Thanks to the encouragement of a workplace mentor, who also teaches at Stanford, Garrett enrolled in Stanford's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate Program. She earned the 1,000th certificate of the program in 2020.

“To be innovative, you have to have a degree of humility because you are going to have ideas that people think are crazy.”

Garrett is passionate about working in the “innovation space,” which she describes as the corporate equivalent of working through adversity, a dominant theme in her life. Garrett and her husband, who have a daughter, suffered the loss of their son while she was 8 months pregnant. Significant loss, particularly the loss of a child, can shake most to the core. For Garrett, it also reinforced a fundamental philosophy to accept what is and rise above adversity. She forged on, determined.

Working in a male-dominated industry, especially as a self-identified Black woman, she’s met with a fair amount of resistance, particularly to change, not to mention prejudice and bias. Garrett’s combination of grit, humility, and confidence to work through challenges has helped her not only earn respect but lead teams to think differently and embrace an innovative mindset.

“The ability to hear and embrace feedback, and keep seeking new and better ideas, builds confidence, enhances relationships, and improves productivity.”

That’s why she found the Stanford certificate program so empowering. “The lessons have helped me position ideas to our stakeholders in a way that feels more of a partnership, which leads to more buy in,” she says. The program teaches you how to embrace new ideas and to consider other perspectives, not just in the product development space but across all functions of an organization. Her favorite courses were Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Mindset which stresses the value of intrapreneurship inside a corporate culture, and Innovation Strategy, where students learn how to brainstorm from different vantage points. The courses  emphasize the importance of listening to others and embracing different perspectives. They also confirmed her personal approach to life: going against the grain, seeking new ways to do things, and persevering through challenge.

“To be innovative, you have to have a degree of humility because you are going to have ideas that people think are crazy,” she says. “The ability to hear and embrace feedback, and keep seeking new and better ideas, builds confidence, enhances relationships, and improves productivity.”

The Road Ahead

Garrett has earned accolades for working across teams and facilitating an innovative mindset at Boeing. Where does she see herself in five or ten years? Continuing to learn, sharing knowledge with others and positively influencing workplace culture, and forever challenging herself. With that last in mind, she’s pursuing an MBA in technology management, while continuing to work full time. She would love to contribute to efforts in leveraging technology and knowledge to better prepare our collective workforce for the future.

For those considering a professional education program like Stanford’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate Program, Garrett’s advice is to pace yourself and create space to focus and fully engage in the learning process.

Find a program that meets your needs at online.stanford.edu