Sunday, March 20, 2011

Celebrating Higher Education and the Future.

     Without a doubtit was inspiring to witness the work of the DeVry staff and local business leaders as they teamed up to make the DeVry students successful

     I also had the privilege of addressing an audience composed of students, faculty, staff  and local business leaders as part of their celebration of the one year anniversary of the Keller School of Management in New Jersey and the launch of the New Jersey Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. My remarks are found below.

Good evening President Greveson, Dean Konopka and Dean Garamani.
Good Evening and welcome to the rest of the DeVry Community.  This of course includes everybody; the students, the faculty, the administrators and the leaders of this school and its business partners.

I use the word community very deliberately because I have to tell you that today has been a very energizing experience for me as a defense program manager as I watched how this community works together.

I have a fairly unique job in the sense that I get the opportunity to see decisions made by our current administration and the contortions of the U.S. congress and watch how that perpetuates itself both into the federal departments as well as into industry.

In light of that perspective I would offer that what I am going to talk to you about tonight is my opinion about the work that this community is trying to accomplish.

Before I get started though, I just want to say  I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to be here to congratulate you on these two very important milestones; the one year anniversary of the Keller School of Management in New Jersey and the launch of your new center, the New Jersey Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship.

What we are doing tonight is very important; when you work hard you have to take a little time to celebrate. Most importantly  this event marks the fact that this community continues to work together to collaborate  on making the students successful, the school successful, the businesses of New Jersey successful, and ultimately you are in fact collaborating to make our nation successful.

From my own personal experience leading change in large, complex organizations.  .  . organizations that have the added benefit of an unbelievable amounts of painful culture . . . I know that the first year of any new effort is filled with lots of small victories, certainly a few small defeats, lots of ‘ah ha moments and even a few ‘uh-oh’s’. 

Examples of uncertainty and an accomplishment are equally plentiful, but there is no disputing the deep satisfaction of being able to look back over the past year and see your hard collaborative work bring you to where you are today.  Even more exciting is to then turn and look down the road ahead and see the potential that lies there. 

So Congratulations for work well done.  I share your excitement about the way ahead.

I want to talk about perspective tonight.  I want to give you mine right up front. 

This community and the work that you are doing represent some of the most strategically important activities that we are working as a nation.  Institutions of higher learning are the only way that we as a nation can overcome our current fiscal crisis. 

The fiscal crisis is huge.  I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom; but my point is that there are no quick fixes and the only way we can get after this as a country is to generate the future leaders in the business sector that will help this country recover. 

Those future leaders are here at DeVry University.  You may not see yourself that way as you work on your school projects, but without a doubt, you represent the future potential of our nation.

That’s my perspective.

In my specific line of work for the Army I don’t get often get the opportunity to interact with organizations like yours and spend time with students.  But when I do, I feel extremely invigorated and optimistic about the future of our country.   This afternoon it was absolutely inspiring to hear graduate level discussions on how the potential of students can be maximized in a way that makes an immediate contribution to our nation and its economy.   As a public servant I was comforted to watch Academia talk with commercial industry about very specific ways that we can help students be successful.
I cannot overemphasize how important that dialogue is.  It is exciting to interact with sharp, critical thinkers who are unafraid to ask hard and important questions.

But it is not enough to simply be able to ask the questions.  It is not enough to be able to ask the ‘right’ questions.  The essential skill is the ability to internalize, synthesize and process the answers to those questions in a way that facilitates the development of positive change.

The mission of this school and others like it, to grow people who can process and act upon the answers to the right questions is, again, one of the most strategically important acts that will define the success of the future of this country.

So let me say that slightly different way.

The true value of your programs is not that they produce people with improved contract negotiation skills and a deeper understanding of innovative marketing and business capture techniques.  It is not the ability to develop sophisticated pricing strategies or the developing the analytical tools to understand market behavior in a global environment.

Most importantly, your school equips students with a set of critical thinking skills that allow them to accurately identify important objectives, or obstacles, and then work collaboratively with a team to achieve and overcome. 

These skills are life skills. They are equally applicable and important at home, at work, in the commercial sector and in the public service.  Regardless of where a Graduate of the Keller School of Management goes after they receive their diploma, they are equipped to rapidly assess, proactively plan and use their critical thinking skills to contribute decisively to what is important.

There is no doubt that our nation needs critical thinkers and collaborative problems solvers now more than ever. 

So I want to tell you a short story that I think will drive home why thinking critically, the skill you are delivering, is so important to achievement and problem solving.

So I want you to think about how two human beings can view the exact same thing, standing side by side; at the same time, same place, and same circumstances in all respects except for their own personal experience and still have diametrically opposed perspectives.

 Suddenly realize how important it is to be able to think critically and be able to accept, examine and interpret those perspectives other than your own if there is any hope of solving important, complex problems.

The ability to solve complex problems today is made exceedingly more difficult by two key factors; the pace of change and the impact of technology.  If you watch the news for more than 30 seconds you will, of course, see that complex problems are everywhere.

Of course recent examples include the events in Japan, a catastrophe on a scale that we cannot comprehend.

We live in a world where the sophisticated opportunities and threats move at a pace that is difficult to grasp.  This is equally true in business as it is in national defense.  In fact, today, the two are interwoven so tightly that our economy is the single largest strategic target in the world, bar none. 

Only rational, deliberate critical thinking that considers numerous perspectives, conducted by the kinds of students produced by DeVry and other institutions of higher learning, can protect it.

Technology is also driving the global community in ways that nobody ever imagined.  No I am not referring to Google’s driverless cars. Specifically, who would have imagined that a social network would fan the flames of a political revolution in the middle-east that has resulted in the fall of a Government, a civil war in another country and widespread unrest unseen in Middle Eastern society in a very long time.

Critical thinking and collaboration are the only tools we possess that can position our country to identify and respond to shifts in world power driven by technology, the spread of information and the associated economics. 

We must not limit our analysis to a single perspective, but in fact we must purposefully seek out perspectives contrary to our own. We must even consider perspectives that are not American!

Probably more disconcerting than either the rapid pace of change or the impact of technology is the fact that the rate of change is steadily and inexorably increasing.  Only reasoned evaluation and critically evaluated response to these factors will help us secure the future responsibly and allow us to keep up with an increasing rate of change.
What is really, really exciting though is that events like tonight tell me that schools like yours are committed to developing  innovative professionals who can take advantage of these opportunities, respond to these threats and will serve in both the private and public domains.  Their work will help our economy and Government move in directions that we cannot yet imagine.
If we can grow future leaders who recognize the importance of different perspectives and can use that as a basis for positive change, then we are truly making a difference that will last.
Growing future leaders who can process complexity and forge decisive paths to success is our most sacred responsibility.  Your community is fulfilling this obligation to the nation.

So let me be a bit more blunt, our future demands that we grow innovative, collaborative problem solvers.  Failure to do this well could have potentially catastrophic consequences.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

While I certainly don’t believe we are on the cusp of another civil war, I would argue that the future of our nation is largely dependent on the ability of institutions like yours to produce millions of citizens who can think at a higher level, discern the difference between problems and personalities, and use the power of differing perspectives to learn, to adapt and to lead.

Your school and its programs will produce thinkers who are unafraid of creating the intellectual friction necessary to examine the edges of our assumption and perspective. 

As an institution of higher learning, your programs, like the one we are gathered here to celebrate, will be instrumental in setting the conditions for understanding, collaborating and ultimately determining how to answer these questions.  Your programs are instrumental in developing sound ways to move forward in situations that will be important to your students, your communities, and the country.

This is an amazing and immensely important contribution to the future.

So as we look forward as a community I would like to share a quote from General Peter Schoomaker who served as the Army Chief of Staff from 2003 to 2007.  He too faced an institution that had to adapt and change for the sake of our country.  We were a cold war based army but faced a world where this kind of force was no longer relevant.

His arrival message was very simple, but it is relevant to the graduates of DeVry facing an uncertain future.  He simply said, “We must be prepared to question everything. What is best for the Nation?  What must endure?  What must change?”

Answering these questions honestly and candidly is hard and requires consideration of multiple, diverse perspectives if we hope them to be effective in shaping our future.  Answering these questions is required for the success of our nation.

Otherwise we will find ourselves frustrated that the mountains are in the way of the scenery.

But I don’t think that will happen.  I am leaving here today more positive than I have ever been.  When I see the kind of things that are happening here at DeVry I realize that we have a lot of talent and a professional workforce committed to developing that talent.

So, again, Congratulations on a job well done on a critically important endeavor and thank you for allowing me the privilege of visiting your campus today and participating in this celebration.  You have a fantastic team of students, faculty, administrators, and leaders who are working together to make the community successful.

I feel very secure knowing that your team is working to make our country a better place.

Thank you.

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