If that same movie were filmed today, it is very possible that the simple advice the man presses onto the graduate would be: entrepreneurship! And he may be right.
With globalization raising the competitive stakes for everyone, the Kauffman Foundation, the world’s largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship, reports that "…the United States might be on the cusp of an entrepreneurship boom."[i] Entrepreneurs already launch hundreds of thousands of new firms annually, and those new firms account for 50 percent of all new jobs in America.
In a recent study, the Foundation points out that "The primary determinant of which path our country will take. . . is our level of entrepreneurial activity. In terms of job creation, innovation and productivity, entrepreneurs drive growth."[ii]
I suspect that some of you may hear that with enthusiasm and interest, but that perhaps others of you may have a different reaction. Because those of you, whose aspirations go in other directions, such as teaching or art or scholarship or any of a hundred fields, are probably thinking, "But I don’t want to be an entrepreneur."
In this highly competitive, knowledge-driven, global economy, you may not have to be an entrepreneur to succeed – you just need to work like one. That is a subtle, but significant difference. With the right set of entrepreneurial skills and characteristics, you will succeed as a teacher, or a nurse, or an artist, or a scholar or in whatever career your dreams may lead you.
I am sure that most of you are familiar with the work of Scott Adams, the brilliant – and now wealthy – cartoonist who gave us the world of Dilbert. Adams earned a degree in economics, not in graphic arts, and began his professional career in banking. Recently he shared seven lessons that he believes provide a basic education in entrepreneurship.[iii]
As I review these with you, think of the career that you envision for yourself, and how each of these might apply.
First, learn how to combine skills. Adams says, "It’s unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it’s easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well." He offers himself as an example, admitting to ordinary art talent, writing skills, wit and business acumen. But the combination of these four qualities in one person proved extraordinary, and thus, value was created for him, as well as for all of us.[iv]
Next, he advises to learn how to fail forward. "If you’re taking risks, and you probably should, you can find yourself failing 90% of the time. The trick is to get paid while you’re doing the failing, and to use the experience to gain skills that will be useful later. Failure is a process, not an obstacle."[v]
Third, find the action. Adams relates how his advisor recommended that he identify the region where the banking industry was roiling with innovation, and to move there. Distance, he warns, is your enemy.[vi]
Then, Adams suggests you learn how to attract luck. You do this by doing things. His point is that people are not necessarily lucky – they are persistent. If you try over and over again, you will eventually "get lucky."[vii]
Fifth, conquer your fears. Many other authorities advise the need for risk-taking, but Adams is correct that this begins with mastering your fears. If you wish to succeed in your chosen field of interest, you must overcome any fears that block your progress.[viii]
Sixth, write simply. Adams is a proponent of direct writing and avoiding the use of extra words. "Simplicity makes ideas powerful."[ix]
And finally, learn how to persuade. You should "learn the art of persuasion in all its forms, including psychology, sales, marketing, negotiating, statistics and even design."[x]
Another person who offers valuable advice along this line is Joseph Hadzima. His credentials may be less entertaining than Adams, but as a senior lecturer at the MIT Entrepreneurship Center his thoughts are worth considering.
Hadzima speaks of entrepreneurial employees as having the "right stuff."[xi] Please note, he does not say entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurial employees. In fact, Hadzima’s advice is intended for directors and managers, to help them identify their best employees, based on a number of traits. As we consider several of these traits, think again of how they may benefit your career.
Hadzima says employees who have the right stuff are results oriented, and take ownership to see a project through to completion.[xii] This is a "can do" person who demonstrates common sense in decisions and actions, and resolves problems that may divert others.
The "right stuff" employee also demonstrates growth potential, and is willing to accept much higher levels of responsibility than is the norm for a given position, title, experience level or salary.[xiii] Such individuals act as strong role models, training and coaching others. Hadzima observes that today’s "right stuff" employee is often next year's supervisor and a department manager soon thereafter.[xiv]
Contrary to popular misconceptions, entrepreneurial employees are true team players,[xv] and recognize how their role contributes to the overall effort and success of the organization. They also recognize the roles and contributions of others, and are sincere in their applause for their teammates’ efforts.
The "right stuff" employee is a multitasker,[xvi] performing more than one role and willing to dig in and do grunt work tasks.
And finally, the entrepreneurial employee is improvement oriented[xvii] and believes the status quo is always temporary; that there is no further status in the quo.
Rather, this person is more than willing to challenge existing procedures and systems by frequently suggesting changes and improvements, and by encouraging others to do so as well.[xviii]
All of these are the very qualities which, when combined, characterize boldness in both thought and action. Indeed, if there is one quote that best exemplifies the essence of entrepreneurism, it is this one from Goethe:
"Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic to it.
Begin it now!"[xix]
[i] Stangler, Dane, “The Coming Entrepreneurship Boom,” Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, June 2009.
[ii] Stangler, Ibid
[iii] Adams, Scott, “How to Get a Real Education,” Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2011
[iv] Adams, Ibid
[v] Adams, Ibid
[vi] Adams, Ibid
[vii] Adams, Ibid
[viii] Adams, Ibid
[ix] Adams, Ibid
[x] Adams, Ibid
[xi] Hadzima, Joe, Seven Characteristics of Highly Effective Entrepreneurial Employees, reprint from monthly column in Boston Business Journal
[xii] Hadzima, Ibid
[xiii] Hadzima, Ibid
[xiv] Hadzima, Ibid
[xv] Hadzima, Ibid
[xvi] Hadzima, Ibid
[xvii] Hadzima, Ibid
[xviii] Hadzima, Ibid
If inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil is correct in his predictions for the near future, "a lifetime of learning" has new meaning for today's graduates.
In a lighthearted nod to J.K. Rowling's novels, Dr. Proenza offers graduates a final lesson of "A Defense Against the Dark Arts of Derision, Disrespect and Insult!"
Dr. Proenza offers graduates in the College of Health Professions a more expansive view of the effects of their work with patients and clients
Employers seek three specific qualities in graduates, and a common element to all is simplicity.
Dr. Proenza reviews the recent history of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, its current status and position for future growth.
Graduates are urged to "lean into the winds of changes and turbulence" in a commencement address on the nature of risk, emotional resiliency and "antifragility."
Dr. Proenza offers graduates lighthearted advice that compares healthy reading habits to a healthy diet.
Dr. Proenza explains to graduates that you will best compete and thrive in this knowledge-based economy if you utilize the arts and sciences to tap into every asset of your brain.
In his 13th State of the University Address, Dr. Luis M. Proenza reviewed the accomplishments of the past academic year and decade, and discussed the challenges and opportunities inherent in the disruptive changes occurring in higher education today.
Dr. Proenza encourages graduates to use this milestone event in their lives to examine their life goals and purpose.