6/15/2002 - Distinguished faculty. Honored graduates. Families and friends. I'm honored to be asked to deliver this address to the 50th and 51st graduating classes of the Kellogg School's Executive Master's Program.
Let me start with a quote from Henry Ford, who said: "Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this."
After many weekends of study, of juggling family demands, of maintaining a career, and meeting academic challenges, those of you graduating tonight have had some of those experiences. When you walk up on this stage shortly and receive your diploma as the official symbol of completion of those experiences, you will be done! I can almost hear the sighs of relief. So savor the moment and enjoy the day.
But also remember that you are not done because we live in a rapidly changing world. The Information Revolution is as big as the Industrial Revolution, which changed everything from a rural, agrarian society into an urban, industrial one. The Information Revolution is changing the way we operate and organize, the way we interact and do business, the way we learn and grow. This will mean that many of the thoughts we have about careers will be changed, and many of the ideas we have about companies will be challenged.
So what principles can guide us in this rapidly changing world? Let me suggest three that I have found to be important:
First, take risks.
Second, embrace lifelong learning.
Third, be "on the field."
These guideposts have served me well. I value these principles and would like to share some personal experiences of how they have helped me.
First principle: take risks -- and understand which risks to take.
Four years after I started with The Boeing Company as a 28-year-old aeronautical engineer working on the Boeing 747 program, I was offered a job in marketing. The opportunity seemed exciting. It would be a new experience and a chance to learn. But then I was called into my boss’ boss’ boss office and told, “You need to understand that if you leave engineering, you will never be allowed back.”
I had spent six years learning to be an engineer, and this was during a time when Boeing was going from 150,000 to 50,000 people. The risk was high, but the potential reward of learning new skills was higher. I also knew my job did not define me. If I had to, I could land on my feet somewhere because I had great experience and education and that could lead me to more opportunity. So I trotted off to try a new job and a great new experience that gave me valuable knowledge.
Remember: Take risks, but understand which risks to take.
Second principle: embrace lifelong learning.
When I joined Boeing in 1965, control system analysis was accomplished on big powerful mainframe computers. We loaded punch cards into computers, and the numbers were crunched over night. In the morning, if you found that you had made a mistake,
you corrected it and resubmitted the job for that night. You lived in fear of dropping
your stack of cards "on the way" to the computer room, and spending hours reassembling the deck.
But computing technology has changed dramatically over the last 37 years, and the laptop I carry today has significantly more power and speed than the mainframe computer I used at beginning of my career. All this has meant constant learning for me -- from FORTRAN to BASIC; from Excel and Word and now to global e-mail.
Another learning experience occurred about 10 years ago when I had the opportunity to put together a new organization to create the Boeing 777. I was lucky enough to meet and learn from a fellow who has worked his entire career in organizational development, and he taught me to understand how outstanding organizations operate. This knowledge helped me to build a great team that “worked together” to accomplish a mission; together, they designed and built one of the great airplanes in the world.
Now my last six years have been filled with invaluable lifetime experiences and lessons about transformation, about change to survive, about business, about leadership in the 21st century. And I continue to learn from these experiences … from creating a global enterprise, from our mergers and acquisitions, and from integrating business cultures.
I also continue to learn daily about the importance of communications with employees, customers, and suppliers; with shareholders, financial analysts; with political, civic, and academic leaders; and with the media. I continue to learn daily about rapidly changing technology and learning to work from anywhere, at anytime.
In fact, a few weeks ago, I actually did a videoconference from an airplane! Not long ago, this was impossible. I had to be in my office to hold critical meetings. Now I can be almost anywhere in the world. The impact of the Information Revolution and the integration of technology and transportation are allowing us to be more mobile and to change the way we do business. These experiences have changed my life.
Remember: Embrace lifelong learning.
Finally, the third principle: Be "on the field."
I would like to quote directly from Theodore Roosevelt because I have never found this idea better stated. He said:
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends time in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither defeat nor victory."
So "be on the field." Be engaged. Contribute to the solving of problems. Dare greatly.
Now let me end. What you’ve been doing in the Executive Master's Program is learning and creating experiences. Both have made you stronger, better prepared, and more valuable. What really matters now is that you continue to learn and contribute from your experiences.
Tonight is especially yours – so enjoy it. Tonight marks a milestone – so cherish it. Tonight is an experience – so build on it. Tomorrow offers you great opportunity to do all sorts of things…especially if you are willing to take risks; to embrace lifelong learning; and to "be on the field."