20 May 2012, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Are you guys bored? You’re looking awfully gloom. Say hi to me. Ok guys. Congratulations.
And a big congratulations to your mums and your mum figures because they worried about you every day since you came to Madison and rightly so. If they would know what happened on Thursday nights they would never, ever let you come here. And the problem that I’m going to explain to you is there ain’t no more Thursday nights. Once you get out of Madison it is not quite the same as that. And another tip I’m going give you before I start is when you do go out and get that job, sit in the front row. I mean seriously. You know who sits in the front row in companies I run? The ones that get the big raises, the ones that are known by management and the ones that are doers. If I can give you any tip, sit in the front row. And congratulations to those of you who at least edged up a little bit. Really. Take their names — oh, they already have grades so that doesn’t help. Ok.
I think that I should give you a little warning about the advice that you’re about to receive. It comes from a 63-year-old unemployed, recently fired, former CEO who occasionally has salty language. The salty language I’ll try to hold back in deference to your young ears but consider yourself warned. Also consider yourself fortunate because you’re here graduating from, I believe, the best university in the country. [applause]
I was so proud when Wisconsin passed Harvard as having the largest number of Fortune 500 CEOs. I was proud to be one of those. [applause]
Growing up in a farm town, Alma, Wisconsin, 800 people, I knew everybody [and] that was a real bummer. I was proud that because of this education that you have received and I received in 1971 — oh, a long time ago — that we can go anywhere in the world. We can be anything. We can do anything. And that’s what is ahead of you. Now, when I graduated in ’71, it wasn’t that much different feeling than now.
Had headlines were tough. The economy seemed tough. In fact, inflation was rampant. Unemployment was going to reach a 20 year high. The war in southeast asia was expanding. Yes, I did some nefarious things and I told some people and they told me not to say it any more. Economists said it was an era for the us and the global economy war was over and japan and european counties were going to dominate. They were the new rising super powers. So much for predictions.
But let me tell [you that in] 1971 with those headlines and no job it was a hard to look through what everybody was saying. I had a UW degree in computer science that was only a few years after the department was formed. Jobs in that field were scarce. They were especially scarce for somebody wearing a skirt. Still are. But 1971 was a special year in the us. That year the NASDAQ stock market began trading. In fact there wouldn’t be a Facebook, an fb symbol on the stock market in NASDAQ if they had not started in 1971. A new airline called southwest started flying. In california a company called intel invented the microprocessor.
You wouldn’t be on any of those devices that you’re on without the microprocessor and all the chip that followed. Wouldn’t be possible. See you’re looking real guilty there. You can tweet your mum later.
Accept I don’t think that your mum know what is a tweet is but she does know what a message is and I’m going to give a sound piece of advice to all the parents. When you message your kids, don’t sign your name. They think you’re stupid. [laughter] my 23-year-old says, mum, what is wrong with parents? We know it’s from you. And I said well, I say mama at the end. Isn’t that sweet? No, it’s stupid. So, parents, don’t sign your name. They know it is you.
So again back a little bit to ’71. We lifted the embargo with china and new service, cheap long distance from mci came about which was the last batch of excuses why we didn’t call home. You don’t know what long distance is but trust me it
was something. Now we didn’t see a lot of this coming. In fact, we just believed the events of that moment. And so my message to you is don’t believe all the
gloom and doom today. It is not going to shape your future because your work life is going to be very long. In fact, you’re the first generation that is actually going to have to work 50 years. Because you have to pay for all these people. [applause ] oh, big applause. Ya.
Now, before you decide to run out of here really it might sounds like an eternity but instead of thinking of it as a burden think of it as a series of opportunities.
You can have several careers. When you find a job this summer or start a job or start a company or whenever it is, you have a chance to do a lot of things in that 50 years. People used to talk about a career ladder and if you are lucky and diligent and sat in the front row and all that, you managed to go up that ladder one step at a time, that was boring and predictable. What’s happening now is that you can choose your different opportunities. Your different career lives. You have a real, real chance to do that. Back when I started at 3M and digital equipment corporation, everything was so predictable in the 70s and 80s.
Yes, it was the beginning of the computer age. But very, very much the beginning.
Computers didn’t talk to each other. Oh, gee, no internet, no apps, no iPhones. Nothing. No answering machines for heaven sakes. You don’t even know what those are because you never answer anything. Am I right? My daughter does not — will not answer e-mail. That is so old. She will answer ims only if I I'm her boyfriend. Because he’s scared of me. So that’s a hint actually because they won’t do it otherwise. There were no ping-pong tables. No beanbag chairs. No hoodies.
None of that back then. But as we advanced and as times have changed, especially in silicon valley, we are so eager for your voices.
We’re so eager for your ideas. We’re eager for your energy. And there is a whole new feeling about what you can do to help with us the economy. Now, the question is how are you going to take advantage of it? So no ceremony like this is finished without some unsolicited advice so this is mine.
First of all, hang with the right people. This is a collaborative world now. It is a very open collaborative world. You know that. From Facebook and all the other social media, LinkedIn or whatever and hang with the right people because if you hang with smart people you get smarter and hang with good people you get gooder.
I was computer science. I can’t spell and I can’t speak and I’m sorry it was lns. I don’t know why but there you go. So make sure that you hang with the right people. Second learn how to communicate. Learn to write a whole paragraph.
Not 140 characters. [applause ] learn how to explain your ideas in a succinct way.
Learn how to promote your products and services so that somebody is interested. Learn how to politely tell your boss that she’s wrong. Did you get that? She, girls? Come on. Woe. Ok.
And then after all that, readily, the most important thing, learn [how to] listen.
Listening is the most important skill you will have. People want to be heard.
People you work with. People you live with. People that work for you. They want to be heard. Learn how to really listen. Shut the mouth and listen. Sometimes I worry that this generation is always on transmit and never on receive. I know that is a hard concept for lns but that means input, output. Ok.
Now, my third piece is to accept failure and learn from it. Failure, especially in your 50 years of working, failure is so important to understand how it can
progress you forward. Not everybody in life knows how to take advantage of
failure. Everybody has failures of many kinds but how do you take advantage of failure? I think the greatest strength that we have in the us and especially in silicon valley is that we actually view failure as a sign of experience. We view failure as a way of life and those people are willing to take on risks to the road to innovation. I have a saying that I have used at my companies. Fail. Fast. Forward. Take risks. Fail. You’re not going to get hurt by that. Try and figure it out as quickly as possible that it is not the right thing. That’s the fast part. And move forward. Fail. Fast. Forward. Do not be afraid to take risks. Most of all, be really passionate and excited about what is in front of you. The virtue of that 50 year career that is you have a long time to plan plenty of space for the unexpected and take advantage of all of that. Plan to raise kids. It’s the best advance degree you can get. [applause]
Discover interests outside your work. I was rarely bored because I knew I could come home after a multi week trip after a hard day to my family, my garden, my books. Do something else. It is not just a work life. It is not just sports. Round yourself out. You have a long time to live and you want to be an interesting person. Always, with all of these plans I talked about, just be open for new things. Be open for any fork in the road. You might have a great career and something else comes along that you never thought of. Move over and try it.
I hope all of you have a chance to take the long view. I hope all of you relish this day with your friends and families. I wish you only the best for your future. Always be proud that you graduated from Wisconsin. Be great. Thank you. [applause]