Each year I post my remarks from the MEM graduation ceremony. It is always a wonderful celebration. Here are my remarks from a few weeks ago at our 2014 ceremony…
MEM Graduation Remarks: Find Your Happy
I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in this celebration of a great accomplishment. In talking with some of you I have been struck by the profound desire you have to find the right job and career for yourselves and to strive to make things better; for your organizations, your families and yourselves. This is wonderful. Nowhere was this more obvious than when several of you told me about the MEM program the other day. I was pleased to hear that you praised it and talked about what a great experience it has been. But even more importantly, without missing a beat and with great passion, you also talked about how it can be better. This is fantastic. A positive, optimistic attitude coupled with a never ending search for improvement. This follows the “Ten Things We Know to Be True from Google.” Great just isn’t good enough.
Having said that, we also know that every decision is a choice; a trade-off of sorts. I strongly support this attitude that great is not good enough. But equally important is the idea that we all must find our fit; it will hard to be great in any organization if you have not found a good fit. The place where we are comfortable and at the same time challenged. Where our skills are appreciated and simultaneously not quite good enough. It is a dynamic positive tension so to speak. I believe that this is not in conflict with being happy and enjoying our time on this earth. In fact, it is not only consistent with being happy but it is probably a requirement if we are to optimize our enjoyment and happiness. So I’d like to call the next part of my two minutes in the sun here “Find Your Happy”.
The wide variety of likes and dislikes, skills and weaknesses, motivators and demotivators in our DNA are truly astounding. To be the most successful, not just in your work but in your life, you will need to Find Your Happy. Of course, this is a take-off on the Pharrell Williams academy award nominated song “Happy”. And I understand there was a hit MEM video – it may not win any academy awards but it is just as telling as the Academy Awards version. If you can find something to do every day, both in your personal life and your work life, that makes you feel like these folks look, then you are truly successful (Duke MEMP Happy Video).
While striving to Find Your Happy remember the famous quote about the future by William Gibson (and also utilized in my Innovation Management Class):
“The future is already here it is just unevenly distributed”.
In the context of Find Your Happy, this means that somewhere, someone is a great role model for you. You will be able to see your future through them! Look carefully for these mentors or coaches and study them. But the only way to find your own Happy is to find the right mentors and then look beyond them. You cannot look for some predetermined social definition of happy but truly must find your own. It’s hard. Especially if your idea of success is not the common, socially acceptable definition, you will question yourself and your decision. Don’t. Figure out what success means to you and follow your own happy. This is nowhere better stated than the fishermen story.
Many of you know the story of the Fisherman and the MBA meeting in a small coastal fishing village in Mexico. Well there is a lesser known but equally important encounter that occurred on a beach in the Florida Keys between an MEM alumnus and what appeared to be a beach bum; you know the type – a typical Jimmy Buffet fan. Here is how it went…..
An MEM Alumnus, Melvin E. Martin, was at the pier of a town in the Florida Keys when a small fishing boat captained by what appeared to be a beach bum pulled up. Low and behold the boat was full to the brim with Yellow Fin Tuna. What made this most remarkable is that Melvin had been watching boats for quite some time and this was the only boat that had caught any fish. The MEM alum asked the beach bum fisherman, let’s call him Bob, how long he had been out fishing and he replied, just a short time. So Melvin asked; Are you going out again? How often does this happen? What is your secret?
The Beach Bum said he was done for the day and probably for the week. He had plenty of fish to allow him to head to his favorite bar where there would be a band playing Jimmy Buffet music and plenty of beer on tap. When he was pressed for his secret about how he was so successful in his fishing he mentioned that he had invented a gadget integrated with a software algorithm many years before that let him see the fish. Not just the simple underwater radar that most boats had but a remote telemetry system with predictive capabilities that utilized data mining and machine learning to predict when and where the fish would be and even identify the type with 85% accuracy. So he could use this innovation to fish one day a week and spend the rest of his time hanging around the beach, chatting with his friends, listening to Jimmy Buffet music and even trying to learn how to play Jimmy Buffet songs on the guitar.
By now Mel, the MEM alumnus, was pretty excited. He was having flashbacks to Professor Holme’s course on Commercializing Technology Innovations and knew this technology was a winner. From his IP course he thought about all the claims that could be written up in a patent for this new technology. And of course he could give this inventor advice on how to lead a company to commercialize this technology given the skills he developed in Professor Ryan’s course. So he said to the inventor, why don’t you patent your technology, raise venture capital, set up a manufacturing facility, begin selling your gadget to all the fisherman in Florida and eventually up and down the East Coast and then across North America! Really, you can take it global after that!
Bob asked: How long will this take?
Mel: About fifteen years
Bob: Why would I want to do that?
MEM: You can build up the business and get a big equity stake in the company!
Bob: And what then?
Mel: You get to do an IPO and cash out on the millions of dollars you make!
Bob: And what then?
Mel: You get to retire to a beach town in a warm climate, do a little fishing, hang out with your friends, listen to Jimmy Buffet music and maybe learn to play the guitar!
Bob looked a bit funny at Mel but admired his enthusiasm.
Most people hear this story and think the moral is that we should have more balance in our lives, not work too hard, figure out what really matters to us. Those are not bad takeaways but there is another part to the conversation. Mel the MEM alumnus then used the emotional intelligence he learned from the program to discern that Bob was not really impressed with the idea of building a company, and was already doing what he loved to do. So his next words were.
“I have a better idea. How about I patent and commercialize your technology, you can advise me once a week while we are out on your boat fishing and we split the profits 50/50! We will both be doing what we love!”
So for me, the takeaway is – don’t wait until you retire to do what you love because as the famous Confucius saying goes:
“Choose a job you love and you will never need to work a day in your life.”
I see many of you doing this already. I congratulate you for that insight and wish you all the best as you begin your career pursuits.
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