1871 CEO has
some useful tips
for college graduates
It's cap and gown season, and every year I'm asked to speak at commencements. The temptation to save time by repurposing my prior talks is substantial, especially because I'm convinced that those prior words of wisdom were not only invaluable, but timeless as well.
But I'd like to think that, even at my advanced age, I've learned, re-learned and unlearned a few new and important things.
In addition, the world is moving much too rapidly — and not necessarily forward — for anyone to look back as little as a year and not feel that many radical changes have taken place. We need to take a fresh look at what's really going to matter and make a difference in the lives of this year's graduates. And given that so many of them want to be entrepreneurs and start their own businesses, I feel uniquely qualified to give them a bit of advice.
I'm not talking about philosophy or politics. I'm just trying to make sure that there's at least one contrarian and maybe one voice of realism among this season's many purveyors of touching truisms, pious platitudes and bumper sticker B.S.
The costly privilege of getting a Master's, an MBA or a JD these days changes the way you look at the world mostly, I would argue, in a good way. The rigor, the arguments, the grit and the perseverance that it takes to survive the process prepares, distinguishes and sets new graduates apart from the less fortunate folks in whatever endeavors they choose to pursue. Their first and most important job is to choose an initial path wisely so they can put all their new abilities to good use.
They possess powerful skills not to be wasted, not to be withheld for fear of failing and, most 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. Today's graduates don't have to, and they shouldn't settle for a day job or anything less than doing something important and making a difference.
So here are a few things that I've learned, which I hope will help on the journey:
In most things today, good enough is enough to get started, then you can start to grow. You want to concentrate on doing a few things really well and saying “no” to a million others. Focus is everything: You can do anything you want but not everything. Pick your spots and take your best shot.
Team building, collaboration and listening skills trump pure talent, and remember that it doesn't help to be creative if no one cares what you have to say. The only thing more important than teamwork is a willingness and a desire to do the hard work that it takes to build a real business.
At 1871, we're lucky enough to go to work each morning joined by excited, energetic and enthusiastic people who are setting out to change the world in important ways. They will face plenty of obstacles, but we've learned that when you're surrounded by other people on the same path as you, it improves your own game.