The following is a speech that Subramanyeswar S (Subbu), Chief Strategy Officer – APAC, MullenLowe Group gave for the Graduation Day at ‘Miami Ad School of Ideas’.
Hello Ideators! Congratulations on your graduation!
It is fantastic to be with all of you this evening. I love the opportunity to talk to you, my dear students ready to take on the world.
You are all in a unique position. You have the benefit of a great education. And you’re also young enough to ignore it all and go your own way.
Don’t get me wrong. What you had learnt here is of the greatest value. And yet whether you succeed or not in the real world of business is not decided by the quality of your education. It is decided by what you learn when you dig into yourself.
A decade or so ago a good business degree was a passport to a life-long career. Now it only kicks open the door. From the moment you walk through – it’s up to you.
Do you have an edge from graduating out of a great creative business school? Sure. Can you use the skills you have learnt here to get ahead in business? Of course, you can. Is what you have learned here enough to become a leading inspirational player in tomorrow’s world? Not a chance.
I know none of you gamble … but think about this casino metaphor: what you learn here is table-stakes. Enough to earn you a seat at the game. But never the promise of a winning hand.
Ironically, some of your most challenging competitors may be people who didn’t graduate from an ideas school like this one. Think of Steve Jobs of Apple. He didn’t last even one semester.
The world is changing fast and business is changing with it. In fact, change has changed. Businesses that don’t keep up struggle or go under. And we’re not just talking small, under-financed ones either. There are some giants amongst them. We’ve been hearing enough stories over the last two years.
Andy Warhol summed up the greatest law of change. “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
Now more than ever business needs people who can understand change, can cope with change, can thrive on change. People of guts and spirit. Curiosity and passion. People who are up for a challenge. People who know what’s right. And do the right thing. People who have a vision of how business can make the world a better place for everyone.
In short, business needs you! All of you.
I’ll share with you some ideas that inspire me every day. Ideas that can take you to the next level. Ideas that can help you shape the vision of you and the businesses that you’ll potentially lead over the next decade or so.
Firstly, DREAM. Martin Luther King did not say I have a business plan. Dreams are all about passion. Don’t pull back from the passion. Turn it on full force. If you love something, you’ll bring so much of yourself to it that it will create your future. Remember what Walt Disney said? “If you can dream it, you can do it”. How beautifully said! His entire game is dreams in action. Steven Spielberg said that he dreams to make a living.
So don’t count the stars, reach for them! I’m sure all of you can. You’ve it in you. In tons.
Secondly, AVOID MODERATION. I’ve always ignored warnings against enthusiasm. Nothing succeeds like excess. Avoid moderation. Be hot, or cold, but not lukewarm.
The best results happen when you zag while everyone else zigs. If you go on doing what has always been done, you stay in the same place.
Thirdly, BE INVENTIVE. Anywhere in the world, people who have the most ideas are best-placed to win, because imagination has unreasonable power.
Ideas have talking power, reframing power, sharing power and leading power. The old-world power of scale and money have been eclipsed by the velocity of ideas.
Winning as an individual or professional demands that you live in an environment where creativity can thrive, where diversity is standard, and where ideas fly in all directions all of the time.
Invention and innovation should be in everyone’s job description, and as Steve Jobs said, the crazies and misfits are the ones who will get a seat at the decision table.
Being inventive is all about making connections and while technology can augment and enhance this, it can’t replace human creativity. Even soft skills like empathy are by their very nature creative skills; uniquely human abilities enabling greater connection. Any amount of data without empathy is meaningless.
We need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of anyone we wish to serve or connect, if we’re to deliver exceptional experiences.
This is the blueprint for Inventive or Imaginative leadership at all levels.
The fourth one is PURSUE FAILURE. Failure is the ultimate reality check. Be in over your head. Don’t be afraid to lose because only then will you know what you’re made of. You discover your limits when you crash up against them. Your ability to overcome daily setbacks counts. Experience failure, bounce back harder and smarter.
When the Wright Brothers flew for the first time it was only after seventy attempts. Definitely seventy, no exaggeration. They understood that someone who never makes a mistake, never makes a discovery. Seventy opportunities to learn and perfect.
Ask dumb questions. If you feel a question is too stupid to ask, you’ve probably stumbled on something everyone needs an answer to!!
The dumb question cuts to the heart of a problem. “Why are we sailing into an iceberg?” would have been a good one to ask on the bridge of the Titanic!
If you obsess about your mistakes, you’ll keep making them. Learn from other people’s mistakes as well. You don’t have time to make them all yourself!
“Pursue failure”, doesn’t mean “keep on failing”. It means push as close to failure as you dare. And learn from it when you push too far. A genius is a person who makes the same mistake. Once!
The fifth one is to EXCEED YOUR PERSONAL BEST. A deep commitment by each individual to personal stretch. Exceeding personal best is the daily performance measure of the athlete. It’s their consuming obsession.
There is this book on Michael Jordan in my room. Most of you would have read about his Godly abilities. Arguably, the greatest basketball player in history. He once said “I don’t mind being second best to myself. Because then I’d be number one and two.” Similarly another inspiration of mine Jonah Lomu, the biggest star in rugby, (who unfortunately passed away some time ago) put it “What we hate most is coming second best to ourselves.” Awesome Jonah! Awesome Jordan!
These are the aspects of an individual’s performance which can help the team find the edge that sends them over the top.
My sixth one is about COMMUNITY. The future is about collaboration and not competition. To do that, you need to have and develop an intense sense of belonging among all of the people to whichever team you belong to.
Community is at the base of genuine team play where sacrificial plays on and off the ball, on and off the field are the accepted norm. For the team it lays the importance of trust, of respect, friendship, pride, involvement, harmony, identity, belonging, family, tradition, ownership and loyalty.
Community means affirmation, selflessness and co-operation.
The seventh one is THINK WITH YOUR HEART. Everyone knows that the lead husky has the best view. But to get out front you have to learn to trust your instincts and follow your heart.
The head is fine for calculations, and even better at coming up with explanations for why you did something. After you’ve done it!
Trouble is most of the decisions we make aren’t rational at all. They are emotional. Once you figure this out the world changes shape.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask the teachers who taught you science. People have been awarded Nobel Prizes for this stuff.
I love what brain scientist Donald Calne says: reason leads to conclusion; emotion leads to action. He’s right.
Your heart is the compass that points to your happiness. Make the small decisions with your head; the big ones with your heart.
When my head has bullied my heart, I’ve made mistakes. And I remember all of them. Be clear about what you value in life. In your heart, you know – or you will know – what will make you happy. Take responsibility for getting there.
I whole-heartedly see a bright future for all of you. You’ve got the world at your finger tips/forefinger or thumb tips in this Age of Apple, so no excuses!
The eighth one is GET OVER TABLE-STAKES. In my vocabulary “Table-stakes” are the minimum you need to be part of the game. And that’s as far as they take you.
What’s wrong with that? The reality is that table-stakes keep getting higher and higher. It is part of what makes business exciting and competitive. Somewhere in the DNA of any successful business are embedded the genes for innovation and a restless spirit. Their mission? To seek out and bury table-stakes.
Imagine how pumped the hotel industry was when they installed the first in-room broadband internet connections. They charged fat extra fees. They made more money. Guests logged on like crazy. Everybody was happy. But that was then.
Today I guess more than a million rooms around the world are wired. To travelers, in-room internet has become just another essential service. Like bath-robes and mini-bars. Table-stakes. Customers still value in-room connections – no doubt about it – but they are sure not going to pay extra.
Consumers today live in a world where the snacks are crisp, cars start first time and the beer is ice-cold.
To make a sustained impact in business you have to be in the top three. If you are number two, the best way not to slip to number three is to become number one. To get to number one and stay there demands fantastic execution, relentless innovation and intimate understanding of people.
All qualities well beyond table-stakes.
Even your world here is under pressure by the relentless logic of table-stakes.
Somewhere I read that the number of MBAs McKinsey hires had come down to down in the last decade. McKinsey says other disciplines are just as valuable in helping new hires perform well. Hear an alarm bell ringing?
Good old supply and demand are hard at work. As the number of people with basic MBA skills expands, their value is driven down. MBA graduates are becoming 21st century blue collar workers. Am I trying to scare you? Never!
The way through? Ideas. Ideas can convince, persuade and illuminate so the right stuff happens. Ideas can transform organizations. Ideas can transform lives.
The ninth one is to BE AN INSPIRATIONAL PLAYER. It boils down to being the best you can be. I’ve wanted to be the best I can be since I was a kid.
Being average can get really boring later on. Being the best you can be, in your mind not in anybody else’s, is a cool thing. It means you don’t get frustrated, you don’t get bitter, you don’t get cynical and you don’t get jealous.
If you know you’re giving it all you can give, it feels great. No-one can ask for more. You feel upbeat, positive, optimistic and seriously happy.
To be the best you can be takes a higher road than leadership. It takes Inspiration, which unlocks your potential, and the potential of everyone you touch.
The greatest thing you can do with your life is to be an inspiration to others. To help them do the things they thought were just beyond their grasp. Your parents, favourite teachers, your best friends lift you in this way.
That takes courage – but in turn transforms your life with fun and adventure, passion and commitment. None of us is as strong as all of us.
A fundamental truth I’ve lived and breathed all my life is that the only limits people face are the limits they impose on themselves.
I believe you have found here at Miami Ad School of Ideas the inspiration you need to be the best you can be.
My last idea is – TAKE A STAND, AND WHEN YOU DO THAT HISTORY WILL STAND BY IT AND BY YOU. We live in a time when issues around the world have varying shades of grey. But the opinions surrounding them are now, more than ever, seen in stark black or white.
When you don’t accept the current or prevalent views on what is happening and become a representative symbol of a new ideology or idea that matters to people, you are taking a stand and have the opportunity to positively impact the world in your own small way.
Taking a stand is ultimately a matter of self-expression. You cannot take a stand unless a little bit of you goes into it, be it your heart, your mind or your beliefs.
Whatever stance you take on whatever issue, the result is a distinctive expression of you, like your fingerprint. It helps you find meaning and fulfilment in what you do. Making you an evangelist and not just someone doing a job.
The last two years have been unprecedented in the way COVID-19 has severely impacted the whole world. But it has also given us the chance to redefine things in a manner never done before and take us into a future that is so unlike the past.
Can you take up the challenge? What are you going to stand for? And how are you going to change the world?
Whatever your passion or hunger, there is sure to be a cause or unchanging reason for being, worthy enough for you to take a stand. And your actions might just make the world a better place at a time when it needs the most!
God bless you!
God bless Miami Ad School of Ideas!