A “Collection of Opportunities”

Greetings. It’s the end of August and the start of a new school year. While I’m not sure where the summer went, I am very excited about the year ahead as our middle daughter Carly has started her freshman year at Beloit College in Wisconsin and our son Noah is starting 10th grade at a new high school that should be a better fit for his talents and approach to learning. And while I can think of many lessons from the first few days of school, I keep coming back to five words the President of Beloit said in welcoming the first-year students and their parents to campus a little more than a week ago…

Colleges are collections of opportunities.”

A simple and important notion about all of the possibilities that await students, faculty, staff, (and even families) in an environment filled with so many opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Some of those opportunities and possibilities are clear the moment you arrive on campus…a fun and engaging freshman seminar on a new and inspiring subject, a first meeting with your academic advisor, a poster in the atrium of the new science center announcing an awesome upcoming event, a chance to audition for the Fall musical, the prospect of making new friends from almost every corner of the U.S. and the world, work study postings that align with a possible major or a personal interest, a visit to the local farmer’s market, and the start to becoming a more independent person 800 miles away from constant guidance (or input) of well-intentioned parents.

There are also opportunities and possibilities that will become clearer as the semester and four years unfold…new and surprising relationships, favorite professors, the most awesome places to study or hang out, sparks generated by reading a new book or wrestling with a compelling question, a world of options for study abroad, and volunteer positions in the community that provide a chance to make a difference and even a bit of a reality check on an envisioned career.

beloit college-photo_17455.

Yes, colleges are “collections of opportunities,” and the young people who approach their time on and off campus with a sense of curiosity, wonder, openness, and humility are likely to be the beneficiaries of a remarkable gift.

But I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that colleges are not the only collections of opportunities we are fortunate enough to encounter. Or that our best chances to be inspired and stretch beyond our comfort zones can’t occur in our work and the rest of our lives. In fact, all of our companies and organizations would also be much more successful if they viewed their mission as providing a “collection of opportunities” for all of their customers and employees. Opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Opportunities to ask and answer important questions, take greater initiative, create and gain greater value, make more of a contribution, and even re-imagine what is possible. Opportunities to innovate and collaborate in new ways. Opportunities to be different and to make a compelling difference.

But in order to realize this mission we have to believe that, just like college students, all of us and all of our organizations are continually a work in progress in a world filled with opportunities. So why not think about how to bring the spirit and sense of possibilities of starting college into your workplace. It might be a great way to unlock the real genius in all of your colleagues.

We win in business and in life when we see the opportunities around us as a remarkable gift and college as simply one of the best starting points for capturing them.


Re-Imagining College

Greetings. After a week of college visits with our middle daughter Carly, I am quite a bit more optimistic about young people, education, the value of college, and even the future.

I just have to figure out a way to pay for it.

But a couple of ideas strike me that might make the entire experience of going to college even more compelling for all of our kids and the world we share…

First, wouldn’t it be a great idea if every high school graduate were required to work for at least a year before starting college? A year or more in which they could get a better sense of what the world of work is like, imagine and even explore future career options, take a “break” after thirteen straight years of school, and even make a bit of money that they can use to contribute to their education. All of which would make going to college a lot more meaningful (and possibly more focused) when they arrived. I sense that this is not a particularly popular idea among most students, their parents, and colleges who worry that kids will somehow get “off-track” by interrupting their studies…even though it would benefit all of them.

Second, wouldn’t it be a great idea if every college student was required to spend at least one semester studying, learning, and living in another country and culture? A semester or more in which they could get a much deeper understanding of just how similar and different people are in other places, become more open-minded about other people and the world they live in, and stretch their abilities to adapt and grow in new and unfamiliar places. All essential skills in their lives as global citizens. I sense that this is a slightly more popular idea but that not enough students ever take advantage of the opportunity for any number of reasons.

College should be a time of remarkable learning and personal discovery. A gift to be welcomed and appreciated. And I sense that Carly and most of her friends will make even more of the opportunity if they see its even greater connection to their lives, careers, the broader world, and their own unique potential.


We win in business and in life when we view learning more broadly than simply going to college and getting a degree. And when we imagine our own amazing potential to learn and grow.


Selling the Perfect College Experience

Greetings.  Yesterday I wrote about the challenge of competing and thriving in a "sea of sameness" where companies and organizations must figure out how to be different in ways that really matter to the customers they choose to serve.  Then, last night, I had the opportunity to experience this challenge in full bloom when I attended a big college fair with our daughter Sara–a senior in high school trying to decide on her final list of schools to apply to.  And she's being very reasonable about the whole thing, applying to seven or eight colleges and universities that fit a clear and exciting profile she's constructed.  If only I'd been that thoughtful and that organized when I was her age.  But times were different then, back in the last millenium. 

The fair itself was filled with lots of energy and insight as school representatives, especially from the lesser-known private schools, tried to get on the radar screens of the teenagers and parents in attendance.  At that's no small assignment given the roughly $50,000 price tag for one year at a private college or university.  Think about it, that's a brand new Mercedes every year for four years.  Or more luxury cruises to exotic places than any reasonable person would every dream of.  Or a contribution to a worthwhile nonprofit that could make you the "donor of the year" (for four straight years).  Or the chance to actually retire someday.  All so your child can study, party, and reflect on their impending future in some idyllic place where, according to most college brochures, the Spring flowers and Fall leaves are always in season.  And given that there seem to be a shrinking number of people willing to pay so much for college, the schools have to figure out a unique angle designed to attract just the right kids.  Unless, of course, they are Harvard, Cal Tech, Princeton, or a limited number of other elite schools that offer history, reputation, connections, and a great education.

NU in Fall

So it was great fun to walk around in this most competitive of marketplaces and to ask representatives what makes their school unique.  Though I must admit, after a while most of the pitches seemed pretty much the same.  "Great teachers."  "Really smart and interesting students" from everywhere on the planet.  "A great faculty to student ratio."  "A focus on the whole person."  "Individually-tailored learning." "Residential learning communities" tied to your interests.  "A campus that is alive with opportunities."  "Amazing internship possibilities."  "Learning beyond the classroom."  A "plethora" (now that's a word I learned in college–along with the ever ubiqitous word "ubiqitous") of extracurricular activities designed to meet every student's interests.  "Innovative study and travel abroad options."  And it was also great fun to hear how giant public universities were repositioning themselves to look and feel just like their smaller liberal arts counterparts while retaining all the advantages of size and price.  But are sixteen and seventeen-year-olds smart enough to do the math even after taking AP calculus?

At the end of the evening I'm left with one clear impression.  Most good colleges are roughly the same and each and every student is the innovation that they really deliver.  Each and every student who challenges themselves to make the most of their experience in an environment that is rich with the potential for genius and possibilities.  An environment that exists in a lot of different places.

In education and business being different matters.  But creating an environment in which students (and customers)  can thrive matters quite a bit more.  In our quest to be different, we should never forget the importance of letting those we serve make the most out of their experience with us.


P.S.  By way of full disclosure, I attended a medium-size private university as an undergrad and one of the largest public universities in the U.S. for grad school–and loved them both!