Be disruptive. Shift the paradigm.
Thats what entrepreneur and former COO of Oracle Ray Lane told West Virginia Universitys Class of 2002 Sunday (May 19), but not before he wowed the crowd by entering the ceremony on an electric-powered, high tech scooter called a Segway, invented by Dean Kamen and funded by Kleiner Perkins, the California-based firm Lane helps run.
His blue and gold commencement robe flapping in the breeze as he maneuvered his way down the center aisle and up the ramp to the main stage, the 1968 WVU mathematics graduate told graduates that the Segways brilliant design and engineering is changing the most basic of lifes functions: Walking.
“It is disruptive. It shifts the paradigm an order of magnitude. It will change the world. You might see the next hula hoop or razor, Dean Kamen sees the solution to the worlds growing urban transportation problems with overcrowded and polluted cities like Keijing, Mexico City and Sao Paolo,”said Lane, a McKeesport, Pa., native.
He used the prop to make this point to WVU s 3,000 graduating seniors:”When you leave this campus, take what youve learned and improve life tenfold, whether you do it in your family, your job or in society.”
Lane received an honorary doctor of science degree from his alma mater, following his unique address,”New Kids, Turtles and the Cabbage Patch.”
Commencement Address to the 2002 Graduating Class of West Virginia University
“New Kids, Turtles and the Cabbage Patch”
Ray LaneMay19, 2002
This is a Segway, and it was invented by Dean Kamen and funded by Kleiner Perkins. It is an example of how ingenuity, brilliant design and spectacular engineering can change the most basic of life’s functions, walking. It is disruptive. It shifts the paradigm an order of magnitude. It will change the world. You might see the next hula hoop or Razor, Dean Kamen sees the solution to the world’s growing urban transportation problems with overcrowded and polluted cities like Beijing, Mexico City and Sao Paolo.
I’m here today to tell you to be disruptive. When you leave this campus, take what you’ve learned and improve life tenfold, whether you do it in your family, your job or in society like Dean Kamen.
Class of 2002, distinguished members of Board of Governors, President and Mrs. Hardesty, WVU faculty, honored guests, families and friends, my sincere congratulations for what is truly one of life’s great accomplishments, the making of an adult. Thirty-Four years ago, I sat where you’re sitting today. I can’t remember who the commencement speaker was, or what he said. I managed to survive despite not remembering this monumental event, but I was lucky. There’s no doubt, had I listened more closely, I would have attained success in half the time and saved myself countless hours of stress. In 2036, when you’re standing where I’m standing now, you’ll be able to say, I don’t remember who my commencement speaker was, but I remember what he rode in on. This baby is my insurance policy against obscurity.
It’s a daunting challenge to speak to a large group of young people. The generation gap is a large communication barrier and the attention span on such an exciting day is usually short. So, I sought some help. I first turned to my daughter who is 23 and asked her advice. She said”be brief, don’t be boring, and don’t tell anybody you’re related to me when you try to be cool relating to stuff in my generation”. She didn’t exactly sugar coat it. But, what does she know, she’s a Virginia Tech grad.
So I turned to famous orators, I’m a huge Winston Churchill fan. This would surely do it, you can always rely on Winston. Turns out the only commencement address he ever made was at the London Boys School, where after a 30 minute introduction of this great statesman and warrior, he said”with the time I have left, I can only say the following..never give in, never give in, never give in, never, never, never, except to convictions of honor or good sense”and he promptly sat back down.
Since David’s introduction of me was so brief, I don’t have that luxury.
Then I remembered a great line spoken by a not so great actor in a memorable, but not academy winning movie. In the movie”City Slickers”, Jack Palence playing the role of Curly, posed a question to Billy Crystal. (Remember the movie?).”Do you know the secret of life”he said. No said Billy..what is it? Curly responds saying”One thing”. Billy asked what that one thing was and Curly said,”that’s for you to figure out”.
So, even though you have to figure out what that one thing is, I’m going to suggest a place to start.
To begin with, I go back to Churchill who observed a few years into WWII when he was trying to instill hope into the hearts of the British people,”Now, this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning”.
In a few minutes President Hardesty and the Board of Governors will confer the rights and privileges of your degrees, and with that, it’s really the end of the beginning. On to what we call the”real world”. Remember what it was like going from being a senior to being a freshman four years ago? One day you’re the master of the universe and the next day you’re at the bottom of the food chain? Well, guess what, the real world has a real food chain. So, as you look up at the rest of the food chain on this important day, what is the one thing? What is the secret to life? With questions like this, I could be cute or evasive, but I’m going to answer it with one word, and that word is”respect”.
Respect. Seek respect (and respect others) through your thoughts, words and deeds, and I guarantee your lives will be fuller, and you will be happier.
How? Aha, now it gets tougher. Although there may be many ways to attain respect, I’ve identified three that I’d like to share with you:
The first I’ve already mentioned.be disruptive; look for an OOM improvement.
Dean Kamen is disruptive, Thomas Edison was disruptive, our founding fathers were disruptive, the original seven astronauts were disruptive, Jesus Christ was disruptivethese people changed the world by an order of magnitude. Too much to relate to? How about John Chambers, a 1970 graduate of this institution, who started a career in computer sales, and as CEO of Cisco Systems, built the communications backbone we call the Internet. Or Homer Hickam, the chronicled NASA engineer from Coalwood, West Virginia, who developed a passion for rockets in the late 50’s, and in a weak moment decided to attend Virginia Tech, or Hank Barnette, retired Chairman and CEO of Bethlehem Steel, Lowell Harmison, holder of the U.S. and International patents for the first totally implantable artificial heart, Glen Hiner, CEO of Owens Corning, Jerry West, Sam Huff and renowned author Steven Coonts, all West Virginia graduates that were sitting where you are today not so long ago, thinking they can’t be as disruptive as Thomas Edison. They all proved themselves wrong.
What made the difference in each of these cases? Passion and Determination, the desire to do great things. We each have a brain, a heart and a gut to help drive our determination. My advice is to use your heart to select what you do, use your head to figure out how to do it, but use your gut to determine the risk and velocity with which you achieve. Trust your gut.
Let me tell you just one more story, the story of Jimmie Alonzo, my neighbor growing up. Jimmie is five years younger than me and as a teenager was never real sure about what he wanted to be when he grew up. An only child, he attended W&J, and took a job as a pharmaceutical sales person. After 5 years, he decided that this was not the life he wanted..he wanted the life of the person on the other side of the desk, he wanted to be a physician. He called me and said,”I can do this, and I can do it better”. I must admit, I didn’t encourage him. I told him I didn’t see it, but he was going to try, it would take a ton of determination. He went back to University of Pittsburgh to regain his bachelors degree and improve his GPA , attended Guadalajara Medical School, and interned at Allegheny General in Pittsburgh. Eight years of hard work before he really knew he could make it in the medical field. This was determination like I’ve rarely seen it close up, and today Jim at 50 is the most popular, and most productive OBGYN in Pittsburgh and Chairman of UPMC Shadyside Dept of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Alonzo has my respect.
We as human beings have built into us a kill switch when we hear the word”No”, and those that discover and disable this switch early, like Jim, are the disruptive ones that change our lives.
The second way to create respect is to create your portfolio,”who you are”with a plan or design, don’t leave it to serendipity.
Your life is a story, a portfolio or album of memories and priorities. What do you want your portfolio to look like when your 30, 40 or 60? Close your eyes for a second so I can illustrate. When you were ten, the album may have had memories of the New Kids on The Block, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cabbage Patch Kids. You are the generation who shares the Garbage Pail Kids, Barbies, Break Dancing, Kid’s Incorporated, Jelley shoes and Jelley bracelets, and Hubba Bubba Chewing Gum. Movies like Goonies, Top Gun, Risky Business, Sixteen Candles, Back to the Future and Stand By Me. Artists like TLC , Run DMC , Michael Jackson, Madonna and MC Hammer.
Here you’ve added good times at Chick n Bones, 1-2-3 and Elements. Local Bands like The New Relics, Soul Inside, The Neighbors and Junior Pez. Leisure time on The Rail Trail, at the Student Rec Center, UpAllNight and The Gluck have added more good times and photos to your album. And now add September 11, Clinton’s Impeachment, The Hi-Tech Bubble and Burst, The Virginia Tech game of 2000, not pleasant, but a meaningful part of your album.
Now, open your eyes. What will that album look like in the future? You have 80 blank pages left in a 100 page album. The difference will be, that with each decade that passes, you become more the sole creator of the album. When you were ten, the album was a product of your environment, when you’re 30, it will be a product of your design. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I came to Morgantown, it was designed while I was here. I didn’t know what I wanted for a career, it was designed in the first three years I worked for IBM . I came here thinking I wanted to be an engineer, I left knowing I wanted to be a businessman. I joined IBM thinking I wanted to learn computers, I left IBM knowing I wanted to be a CEO . Thinking through that design led to decisions that produced the pictures with which I wanted to fill up the blank pages in my album. So what did my first twenty pages look like? Does Howdy Doody, Hula Hoops and Sputnik ring a bell? I had a lot of making up to do.
So, in your mind’s eye, create the album for you life over the next ten years.
Profession, family, recreation, travel, achievements..you design it. It won’t turn out exactly as you design it, but you will comprehend much better the changes and compromises you are making along the way.
The third way is perhaps the most important and it is to go beyond”caring”for your fellow man, and seek”cures”.
In your productive lifetime, the next 30 to 40 years, cancer will be cured, we will travel to Mars and we will communicate with each other through our watches just like Dick Tracy does in the comics. These are all more believable than the demise of communism was when I was 21.
Today, America is building a new infrastructurean information infrastructure that will shape the next century every bit as much as this University helped shape the reconstruction of the post-war Union in the late 19th century. Instead of railways of steel, we’re building ultra fast information highways. Instead of physical warehouses, we’re building vast data warehouses that can store virtually all the knowledge on earth.
Make no mistake about it: the Internet’s impact will be no less than that of Edison’s light bulb, Bell’s telephone, Ford’s automobile, or Westinghouse’s electric power-on-demand. It will so profoundly change our world that, twenty years from now, no one will be able to remember what life was like without it.
At the center of this revolution is you the digital generation, and as you become the entrepreneurs and industrialists of the future, remember that the technological, political and economic revolutions you spawn are often accompanied by great and unexpected improvements in the general public well beingoften in areas quite unrelated to your original business purpose.
In part, this is because new technologies are applied to problems unconsidered by the inventors; but often, it’s because the wealthy entrepreneurs, aging a bit, more virtuous or wishing to seem so, discover philanthropy. Most universities serve as great examples.
The amount of such philanthropy in America is impressive. Most of our famous modern private Universities were born this way. Despite being a Land Grant college, West Virginia University stands as a great example aided by great philanthropists like the Gladys and Vivian Davis that just gifted $18 million to the College of Agriculture and Forestry and Consumer Science.
There are many reasons for this generosity, some not so altruistic, but I believe that deep down, in almost all of us, there is a desire to do good. To help. To save. To express gratitude, share wisdom, and make life better for everyone. And, of course, it is easier to be altruistic when you have something to be altruistic with.
During the past 100 years, this private altruism has generally taken two forms: Health and education and some small smattering of art. Again I find the reasons interesting: Part of the interest in health is no doubt due to the fact that by the time a person has assembled enough money to build a hospital, that person is often old enough to need one. But I think that the focus on health and education is ultimately because you can’t give a better gift: Live longer; be smarter.
But there is a fundamental difference in the kind of approach you can take to the problems that confront us in health and education, or in other fields. As young adults and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and benefactors, you can focus on the difference between managing a problem, and solving it. Focus on the difference between making suffering tolerable and eliminating it. Focus on the difference between CARING and CURING .
I fear that we have become so rich as a nation that we are willing to handle our problems with care instead of cures. In many of our schools, we are content to warehouse the kids, not prepare them to compete with their peers in Japan and Germany. Most of the trillion dollars we spend annually on health carenotice the term, health CARE goes to warehousing patients with chronic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
I have good news and I have bad news.
The bad news is that, in fact, we are not rich enough. When my huge generation of baby boomers, starts to develop the normal diseases of aging during the next two decades, the cost of health care will literally bankrupt the nation. This is not an exaggeration. It will simply not be possible to pay for current care for a cohort so large. It is no wonder that many of you graduates and current students see us boomers as a sort of demographic sword of Damocles hanging above your necks.
The good news is that the new information technology, at which West Virginia University takes a front row seat, gives us the chance of a cure. The computer-aided work on the human genome has given us the possibility of genetic cures for chronic disease. Hardly a day now passes without a major breakthrough announced in cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis and other formerly intractable conditions. At the least, with a lot of hard work, we can expect to prevent many of these conditions by detecting them earlier and treating them while they are still treatable.
In education, the information highway offers us the possibility of providing a disruptive solutionall knowledge, all lectures, all books, all research, all teachers available to everyone everywhere all the time. Imagine everyone in the world being able to take courses from the best teachers in the world, a sort of”virtual university”.
They are already being built. Great teachers with superior content will become rock stars, with the commensurate compensation because their constituencies grow a thousand fold. Why shouldn’t the greatest teacher with the most students make as much money as Michael Jackson or Madonna?
We have a chance at curesIF we are willing to work for cures. It’s often harder and initially more expensive than mere care, but in the end, cures are almost always cheaper and better and infinitely more compassionate.
I am sure most of you have seen a movie called”The Graduate”made back in the 60’s. You will recall a famous scene in which a suburban stuffed shirt says to Dustin Hoffman:”I have one word of advice for you son: Plastics.”
Graduates of the Class of 2002, I have one word of advice for you:”Cures”. No matter how large or small the problem, curing will contribute immensely to our society and to your lives. Graduates of the Class of 2002, go be”disruptive”, start designing your”portfolio”and discover the”cures”that will make the 21st century the best ever.
Good luck to you and God’s speed.