Suggested Background Music: Government Mule; Soulshine
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My eldest niece Erin graduates from University of North Carolina (somewhere) this weekend. University of North Carolina has, literally, thousands, of campuses. I remain convinced UNC has campuses on other planets and in galaxies far, far away. When asked “where does your niece go to college”, for four years I have replied “University of North Carolina (sneezecough).”. Then, I rapidly change the subject and ask them a question that is hard to answer. For example, “what do you think is the best way to bring peace in the Middle East?” or “bet you cannot count to one thousand in three minutes using only prime numbers”. Because who has time to memorize the exact UNC campus?
Remaining childless and relatively unencumbered is an excellent way to fully live a Puff the Magic Dragon lifestyle. Am fortunate to have seven wonderful nieces and nephews to share when I feel like setting aside the painted wings and giant rings for a bit. Erin was the first of the seven. My sister Melinda, Erin’s mother, is my polar opposite and remains convinced to this day that The Lord cursed her with a reincarnated version of me as a daughter. Erin and I use the word “blessed”. Thanks for sharing your blessing with me, Mel. Told you she would never need a bail bondsman and she never did. Quod erat demonstrandum
Over the years, Erin and I have had many conversations….fewer as we aged and I become more reclusive and aspbergian. These conversations started with Erin speaking some sort of rambling. child Ancient Sumerian and evolved, when she was twoish, to her dubbing me Uncle Dopey by pointing at me and loudly proclaiming “YOU’RE DOPEY!” That was fun. My favorite Erin conversation took place three years and eight months ago when she was in the middle of her first week away at college and I was driving from Chicago to Minneapolis, with stops in between for the Harley Davidson 105th birthday bash, the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Harley bash, and a Rage Against the Machine concert in Minneapolis the same evening Sarah Palin was accepting the Veep nomination at the 2008 Republican National Convention across the river in Saint Paul. And teasing the hippies at their war protests. Hippies are fun to tease. That was a most excellent week.
It began as many of my weeks do. Running from a relationship. I was working in Texas the week before Labor Day and instead of going home and ending the current relationship with the woman with whom I was living, I looked at a concert calendar. Found the Springsteen/Harley gig Friday and Saturday and the Rage Against the Machine. Called my ticket broker back in San Diego and promptly flew Austin to Chicago, beginning the road trip to the RNC and the RATM five days later. Always carry two weeks’ worth of clothes when travelling….in case you have to run away. Bored, somewhere outside the Wisconsin Dells, I called Erin and we chatted from The Dells, through Winona, and on into Red Wing, where I spent a very quiet Labor Day Eve. We spent the majority of our phone time discussing what most uncles and nieces discuss when the niece begins college. We discussed tattoos.
Having a full back piece and several other stamps, I was the correct Mulligan/Drury person to advise Erin on the subject of tattoos. Her friends were thinking of going out and getting some ink and Erin needed advice. The advice was, of course, that no permanent decisions (ink, kids, marriage, and voluntary amputation of a limb) should be made prior to 30. It is challenging to comprehend “forever” before 30. Or even 40. Ink is quite permanent and entirely limiting when it comes to evening gown and shoe choices well into the future. We discussed this for one hundred forty-six miles, Wisconsin to Minnesota, and in the end Erin chose to not get that tattoo. This places her in the 1% of college students. Erin makes wise choices.
Rage Against the Machine was magnificent
As was teasing the hippies.
Yet what stands out most from that weekend was the one hundred forty-six mile tattoo, life, and college convo with Erin.
Congratulations on your matriculation. I remain confident that you will one day soon have the Global Vice President of Marketing career adventure that you’ve wanted for four years. You are ridiculously bright, bilingual, and you make people laugh out loud. Those are the three legs of the stool that is Global Vice President of Marketing. Should that hat trick not be enough, here is my eleven cents. Many of your friends will get a Cross pen set as a gift this weekend. Your really, really, really rich friends may receive a Visconti “Forbidden City” H.R.H. Fountain Pen. If one of your friends gets a Visconti “Forbidden City” H.R.H. Fountain Pen for graduation this weekend, get them piss eye drunk and steal that pen. You can get $40,000 for that pen on EBay.
Most of you will receive three or four copies of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You Will Go” and you’ll all get money. I will send money. Please spend it one something stupid or on a bail bondsman. Mel hates to be wrong. Here’s the eleven cents.
If you want to be great at marketing, invest some time selling things. The best marketers have carried the sales bag, asked a million questions, dealt with hundreds of thousands of objections, dealt with rejection hourly, and learned what it truly means to get to know a customer and their unmet needs. The best marketers have read all of Kotler’s works. The best marketers understand that it’s not about the company or the product….it is 100% about the customer and their specific, unique needs. The best marketers ask questions and actively listen.
If you choose to get an MBA, wait until you have worked for a minimum of ten years. The skills you acquire in an MBA program need context and the best way to add this contextual framework is to work for a decade. If you do not choose to get an MBA, take the time to learn finance, statistics, manufacturing processes, accounting, research and development and organizational behavior. Marketing pulls all of these disciplines together, wraps them around customer needs and kicks out unique products into the market space. Respect your colleagues by understanding what they do. Always, always always pull manufacturing into the product development process early. Really early. They know how to make the stuff and will provide you valuable counsel.
If you find yourself short of cash, do not rob banks. Check kiting is far safer and less dangerous. Kidnapping is also a poor choice. Because the exchange is always tricky and seldom successful.
At some point in your career, you’ll be in a meeting and your CEO will ask “what are our low cost country manufacturing options?” The only correct answers to this question are West Virginia, Arkansas, or Northern Ohio. Have the courage to keep jobs in the United States and the temerity to hold your ground when this conversation comes up. That topic will come up. Explain to your colleagues that you can invest in new capital that will lower your manufactured costs here in the United States. Better yet, you can lead a marketing team that creates unique and profitable solutions and products that command a premium because of their differentiation. Anyone can find a cost advantage in India or China. It takes a true marketer to develop a differentiated product that commands a premium, regardless of where it is manufactured. Manufacture here at home.
Avoid commodities. Commodities suck. Commodities are all about price and winning a deal based upon price is an empty, hollow victory.
Embrace change and become an agent of change. Find activities and roles in your career adventures that make you uncomfortable…these are how you will grow. Never be afraid to say, proudly and aloud, “I am uncomfy”. That’s how people know to reach out to help you. They will help you.
Make friends at work and play who are your 180 degree opposites and hold completely different beliefs than you hold. What a boring place it would be if we all agreed. Much like the entire cast of “Idiocracy”. Learn to truly respect differing opinions, not with a smirk, but with a deep understanding of the background, ethics and moral compass that created that contrary opinion. Learn to argue coherently and intelligently. Not Tosh.0’s “nah, nah, boo, boo” or “BECAUSE” arguments. Do the research and make your arguments from a strong position of knowledge, not emotion or lemmingness.
Speed Round: Keep a journal. Write in it every day. Give to charity. Volunteer. Always buy extra toilet paper and beer when you are at the store. Even if you do not need toilet paper or beer. You will need toilet paper and beer at 3:00 a.m. one evening and thank me for that advice. Save something from every paycheck, even if it is $5.00. The power is within you to make every day an adventure. Make every day an adventure. Know everyone’s name at work. And if they have children. And the name of the person they say “I love you” to when they leave for work in the morning. Spend all the money in your change jar once a year on something silly. Be silly. Don’t wear brown shoes with a black belt. Never turn left across four lanes of traffic without a light or a stop sign. Be yourself all the time. Ask your boss, your peers, and your customers “how am I doing?” on a weekly basis. Thank them for their input….good or bad. Hug people. Hugging is good stuff. Let your soul shine. Be third: God is first, your friends and family second, and you are third. Be third.
When you feel like stabbing yourself in the eyes with knitting needles, go take a walk. Preferably near a body of water, like an ocean or a lake. So that you can skip stones on the body of water. Skipping stones is an excellent way to both remove the desire to stick knitting needles in your eyes and to think. You are being paid to think. You cannot think in a meeting. You can think while skipping stones. Most meetings are a waste of time. Skipping stones is never a waste of time.
Read a book every month for the next fifty years. Real books. Bound books. Take notes in the margins, underline, and look up the words you don’t know. Read at least one newspaper every day and, when time permits, three. Make one of those newspapers the Wall Street Journal. Make another the New York Times. Reading stimulates your brain’s neural network, continually opening new paths in your noggin to learn new things and master new skills. If you keep those neural networks growing for the next seventy years, the odds of you ending up in a home with senile dementia will diminish. The odds of you advancing in your career grow with each periodical and book you read. Except People magazine. Read People for fun. And for the pictures with witty captions.
There are six books you should have in either your car, your office, or close to your bed at all times. No need to have all five in all three places. That would be overkill. These five books are your FEB’s…your fire extinguisher books. When the world appears to be on fire or when you are having a particularly significant Saint Elmo ’s fire day, just chill. Grab one of these six books and read a chapter or two. Take the day off, blow off the rest of the world, and read the whole book. You’ll find that each extinguishes fires in it’s own unique fashion.
- The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- Illusions: Richard Bach
- Harold and the Purple Crayon: Crockett Johnson
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Stephen Chbosky
- The Last Lecture: Randy Pausch
- Love: Leo Buscaglia
Avoid absolutes. Except these absolutes.
Hydrate properly. There is a good deal of hydration in beer, wine, and umbrella cocktails. There is also a good deal of hydrating value in water. On road trips, in airports, on planes, and in meetings, have a bottle of water handy….use it to hydrate. If you hydrate properly, you will seldom have bags under your eyes and you’ll get far fewer “laugh lines” as you age. On road trips, in airports, on planes, and in meetings, do not hydrate with beer, wine, and umbrella cocktails. People will talk if you do that.
Laugh as much as you can every single day. Laugh harder when you appear to be on the edge of an abyss. Laughter echoes far better at the edge of the abyss than screams of terror. Laugh like a hyena. It works.
When you wrong someone, in business or in love, there’s only one correct offense. This is the correct offense:
- “I am sorry”
- “What I did was wrong”
- “I’m going to do my best to not do that again”
- Then, shut up. If a hug is proffered, accept it and hug back while maintaining your silence.
And then, of course, there is gravity. Gravity is an absolute. What goes up must come down. Newton. Bright man, that Newton. His law of universal gravitation states that every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Jupiter has a higher gravitational pull than Mercury and Carnie Wilson has a higher gravitational pull than Chynna Phillips. The more risk you take…..in business, love, and life……the farther the potential fall can be. The more successful you become, the larger the gravitational pull. All great leaders and agents of change (Einstein, Mikey Dell, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, ad infinitum) felt gravity’s pull and fell hard. Then got back up and did what they did. Always get back up. Then, laugh and do what you do.
Don’t date people with whom you work: there is very little upside and plenty of peril. There are roughly three and a half billion men in the world. Excluding the Chinese (because I cannot support you dating a heathen Commie), there are three billion men in the world. You’ll probably work with a few hundred men. Exclude them from your dating potential pond and focus on the 2,999,999,800 others with whom you do not work. When you find the “right” man one day, I hope he gives you a speech like Melvin Udall in the movie “As Good as it Gets”. The speech at the end. This one.
“I might be the only person on the face of the earth that knows you’re the greatest woman on earth. I might be the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing that you do, and how you are with Spencer, “Spence,” and in every single thought that you have, and how you say what you mean, and how you almost always mean something that’s all about being straight and good. I think most people miss that about you, and I watch them, wondering how they can watch you bring their food, and clear their tables and never get that they just met the greatest woman alive. And the fact that I get it makes me feel good, about me.”
Just make sure a guy at work does not give you that speech. There’s no upside. Plenty of peril. And when your relationships fail, as they often do, keep in mind that there are still another 2,999,999,799 with whom you do not work.
We are Irish. Keats is our favorite writer poet person. Mr. Keats wrote the following: “Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.”
And that, Erin, is what I hope for you from today forward. Discovery, fresh experiences, and a wide, long highway of success…..you, laughing like a hyena at what some may label “failures”. Don’t be afraid of the mistakes. Embrace them. I am very proud of you.