What CEOs Can Learn From College Kids (Yes, Seriously)
It's the season of college graduations and their attendant commencement speeches--a time of hopes and dreams, of carpe diems and fare thee wells.
This past year, I had the good fortune of spending some time with a handful of incredibly thoughtful college students. And as I watch another sea of caps and gowns enter the workplace, I can't help reflecting on a spirit that I observed within each of them that left me inspired, refreshed, and reinvigorated.
In short: Open (versus closed). Let me expand.
Open to Ideas.
College students are innately (and yes, sometimes cloyingly) open-minded.
But consider the inverse of this open-mindedness for a moment: being closed-minded. Closed off. Closed for business. Arms crossed, both literally and figuratively. Resistant to new thinking, new approaches, and new ways.
I truly believe that being open, staying curious, and fueling one's curiosity (not to mention personal development) is of paramount importance--particularly in the participation economy, where speed is an innate virtue, control is a profound illusion, and Moore's Law reigns supreme.
To be clear, there's a difference between an open mind and an empty mind--leaders must still provide thoughtful discernment and active thinking. But in a world in which we all see a little too much insanity (cue Mr. Einstein: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"), it's safe to say that we could all stand to be a little more open (and/or less insane).
Open to Disruption.
College graduates have no vested interest in "the way it is." As such, they ask tricky questions. You know the ones. They seem simple (or perhaps pedantic), but they sure do pack a powerful punch. (Hint: When your answer is, "Because that's how we do it," much like an frustrated parent, you know you've just received one.)
Great leaders accede to best practices but also understand that the best "best practices" are a work in progress. Furthermore, they're not afraid to argue the alternative. Ask provocative questions. And keep priorities at the top of the priority list. Bottom line, great leaders never stop searching for ways to bolster the value proposition, enhance the brand, or drive cost out of the machine--no matter their level of disruption or discomfort.
Open to Being Wrong.
Finally, in my experience, college graduates have few fears about being wrong. And in stark contrast, far too many of us business folk (myself included) can succumb to the powerful pull to avoid that at all peril.
In her book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Kathryn Schulz makes a compelling case for not just admitting our errors but actually studying and even embracing them.
"If you really want to be right (or at least improve the odds of being right)," Schulz writes, "you have to start by acknowledging your fallibility, deliberately seeking out your mistakes, and figuring out what caused you to make them."
How can we ever hope to get better--as individuals, teams, or organizations--if we're not willing to acknowledge failure and learn from its fires and ashes alike?
George Bernard Shaw said, "Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." Amen. So let's ponder our youth. Try on our metaphorical cap and gown. And cultivate our "open muscle" for our business. Carpe diem.
CURT HANKE | Columnist | Founder and CEO of Shine United
Curt Hanke is the founder and CEO of Shine United, a 41-person advertising and digital agency headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, serving such clients as Harley-Davidson, Wisconsin Cheese, Mizuno Running Shoes, Entwine Wine, and Winston Fly Rods.