Lessons from a “C” student

When I graduated from USC in 1994, our two commencement speakers were George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  Both were receiving honorary doctorates that year from the University. Interestingly enough, while Lucas did graduate from USC, Spielberg did not due to poor grades. Both gave wonderful speeches, but there were two major lessons that I’ve carried with me from Steven Spielberg’s speech over the course of my career – lessons that I find are very relevant to the world of marketing and PR that I live in today:

Never stop asking WHY. As I recall the speech to go, he described a toddler, constantly asking mommy and daddy “why” and “how” and “what’s that”. After a time, most people will get annoyed with that toddler and try to quiet the child. Spielberg, on the other hand, sees beauty in always asking WHY. It’s in persistently asking WHY that we find new things, expand our minds and viewpoints, and get to the heart of who we are and what we stand for.

As I reflect on those words today, I realize that these questions are at the heart of what we do, especially from a branding and strategy perspective. These questions also drive the creation and execution of new ways to communicate and engage our audiences. Those who stop asking “why” and “how” and “what’s that” risk being passed up by those who do.

Don’t overlook the “C” student. USC passed on Steven Spielberg because on paper, he didn’t meet the school’s criteria. But look deeper, and you find passion, creativity, and a spark here that doesn’t exist elsewhere. What is that “C” student’s why? How does he view the world, and the opportunities that may exist for the future?

Over the years, we’ve had clients, employees, vendors and business alliances that on paper may have seemed to be that “C” student, where we’ve found ourselves asking “how in the world is that crazy company/person going to succeed?” But where there’s passion, vision and creativity, anything could be possible. You have to overlook your preconceived notions about what that perfect “student” looks like to get there.

I hope these lessons are as helpful to you as they have been to me. Go forth, dig deeper, ask the tough questions, and Fight On.