Friday, May 13, 2016

At the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Commencement with NU President Morton Schapiro and Graduate/Courage Award Winner Patricia Boone

                              HAT COMMENCEMENT REMARKS

I want to start by thanking you for the invitation and the honor of speaking to you today. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but I also have really bad tennis elbow and I didn’t deserve that either - so I guess that these things eventually even out.

I’d also like to thank my friends JB and MK Pritzker for their amazing generosity and for anchoring the Law School’s future for decades to come. Our city and our school are beyond fortunate to have them.

Finally, I want to assure you that the investment you’ve made in your legal education is a wise one. In the last 45 years since I graduated, I don’t think there’s been a single day when I haven’t put the analytical, organization, and presentation skills I first learned at the Law School to exceedingly good use.

Lincoln Hall changes the way you look at the world – mostly in a good way – and the rigor, the arguments, the grit and the perseverance that it takes to excel in this special place have prepared you, have distinguished you, and will set you apart going forward in whatever you choose to do with your lives. Your most important and first job is to choose wisely.

These are powerful skills – not to be wasted – not to be withheld for fear of failing - and, mostly importantly, not to be frittered away. In my world, failure is an everyday occurrence and an accepted part of the landscape. The best entrepreneurs aren’t afraid of failing – their greatest fear is spending a significant part of their lives doing something insignificant that doesn’t really matter or make a difference to much of anyone.

Every one of you is better than that – you shouldn’t settle for anything less. There’s always a best seat in the house – a best row at the show – and while you may not always get it – shame on you if you don’t go for it. It pays to aim high. Feasibility will compromise you soon enough.

Now here are a few things that I’ve learned and unlearned in the last half century which I hope will help you as you head out into the real world.

(1)            Not Everything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well

Striving for Excellence is Stimulating and Rewarding – It’s a Good Goal

Shooting for Perfection is Neurotic and Will Simply Drive You Crazy

No One Can Afford to Be Perfect Even If It Were Possible

In Most Things Today, Good Enough is Enough to Get Started – Then You Can Grow

Nothing Matters More than Focus – You Want to Do a Few Things Really Well - You Can Do Anything You Want, But Not Everything

You Have to Become a Great Editor – You Need to Quickly Learn How to Say “No”.  Not “Maybe”.  Not “Later”.  A Simple and Complete “No”

Great Strategy is About What You Say “No” to.  

The Rest of your Lives will be all about Triage and Choices – too many opportunities – too little time.

(2)            Successive Approximation Beats Postponed Perfection

Iteration in our World is Everything and An Unending Process

You Get Better by Getting A Little Better – Every Day

It’s Like Ironing (I Think) – You Go Over & Over Again – Until It’s Done

…..But, Of Course, It’s Never Done

There’s No Finish Line Today – Only the Next Mountain

(3)      The Name of the Game is to Win, Not to be Right All the Time

Growth is Inherently Embarrassingly – Mistakes are Inevitable

You’ll Never Have All the Data You Need for Certain Decisions

You’ll Learn to Draw Sufficient Conclusions from Insufficient Premises and Try to Make the Best Decisions You Can

There May Be Better Answers, But There’s Rarely Only One Right Answer and Any Answer is Better than Waiting

Being Consistent Above All Requires You to Be as Ignorant Today as You Were a Year Ago –  Or as I Like to Say: Stare Decisis Sucks

(4)            No One Does Anything Important Today All By Themselves

This Seems to Me to Be One of All Law Schools’ Greatest Failings

Even the Business Schools and New Medical Schools Appreciate that You Need to Be a Team Player to Succeed.  Law Schools – Not So Much

We’re Still Promoting the Litigator/Gladiator Model and the World is Looking for Collaborators.

And While Technologies Quickly Become Commodities; Dedicated, Motivated and Passionate People are the Only Long Term, Sustainable Competitive Advantage Any Business Can Really Have

Teambuilding, Collaboration and Listening Skills Trump Talent Today

The Only Thing More Important than Teamwork is A Willingness and A Desire to Do the Hard Work

Hope is Not a Strategy – In Today’s Hyper-Competitive World, You Get What You Work For, Not What You Wish For.

(5)            You Don’t Have to Be an Entrepreneur, But You’ll Have to Be  Entrepreneurial

Everything is Changing at An Accelerating Pace – Autocatalytic Rate

Today is the Slowest Rate of Technological Change That You Will Experience for the Rest of Your Life

The Future Won’t Be Incremental or a Little Different – It Will be Radically Changed

You Are Going to Have to Define and Manage Your Career in a Much More Aggressive and Active Fashion than Anyone in the Past and You Will Need New Tools and New Skills to Do That Successfully

(6)            It’s Not Enough to be The Department of “No”

There Are a Million People Today Who Will Tell You What You Can’t Do and Why.  We Don’t Need Any More of Those Folks.

What We Need Are People You Can Count On to Add Real Value.
How Do You Add Value?  It Couldn’t Be Simpler.

            Save Me Time
            Save Me Money
            Make Me More Productive
            Help Me Make Better Decisions
            Get Stuff Done

      Easy to say – hard to do

(7)            Clients Want Ritz-Carlton Results at Arby’s Prices

And They Want It All Right Now. Some Things Will Never Change.

There’s No Simple Answer, But You Can’t Let It Get You Down.

Here’s How We Define Success:
                        Love Yourself
                                    Love What You’re Doing
                                                Love How You’re Doing It

If You Can Get to That Place – You’re Golden.

If You Can’t Get the Resources, Time and Support You Need to Do Things Right, Go Do Something Else.

(8)            A Final Thought

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

At 1871, we are lucky enough to go to work surrounded by excited, energetic and enthusiastic people who are setting out every day to change the world in important ways.

My fondest hope for each of you is that you can find a similar place and similar challenges. There’s no better way to spend your days.

So now it’s up to you – go forth – go always forward – and go make us and your parents proud.


Total Pageviews


Blog Archive