Twelve marketing lessons from twelve years

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I’m one of those fortunate individuals who has been able to work my entire career in the field which I chose and studied – Marketing. Like all long term relationships, I find my relationship with marketing is one of fluctuation. At times it frustrates me. At other times I find renewed excitement about it. Sometimes I feel like I know it inside out, while on other occasions I wonder if some of that knowledge is perhaps unfounded. But like the best relationships and friendships, I seem know I’ll be involved with it for good. Or at least for a very long time.

Around twelve years ago, as a young university graduate, I got taken on by a growing Port Elizabeth agency. For the most part, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and realised pretty quickly that there’s a huge chasm between education and reality – a chasm I still hope to be part of rectifying in the future, because it’s still a challenge today, for graduates and companies alike.

I quickly learned the hard way, and feel like I’ve been doing that ever since. In the twelve years I’ve been in this field, working for brand agencies and as a head of marketing on the corporate side, I’ve learned some timeless marketing lessons, from which I’ll dispense which I think are the most important. Here they are:

 

  1. Don’t spend a single cent on advertising your product or service until your internal sales processes are running faultlessly and optimally. In particular, ensure that sales people and all customer-facing staff are entrenched with the correct messaging, philosophy and product knowledge. Also, can you deliver on what you’re advertising, every time? If not, don’t say it. You’ll never win the long game by false advertising.

 

  1. If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.

 

  1. If you’re going to partner with agencies, whether it be PR, Social Media, Design or Ad Agencies, make sure the agency is small enough that you’re one of the agency’s biggest accounts, and that you have constant contact with the top leadership of the agency. Beware of falling for a big agency with an impressive pitch, only to be handed over to a junior account executive, with you seeing the agency leadership once every 12 months.

 

  1. Sometimes the solutions to increasing sales don’t lie in advertising, sales, promotions or in any marketing area. Adjustments to staffing, product range or product attributes can often have a far bigger impact than an ad campaign.

 

  1. Every person in an organisation needs to be seen as a marketing person, right from CEO to floor operators. The biggest brand ambassador needs to be the CEO, and he/she must drive the brand direction and help instil it in all staff. Too often the brand strategy knowledge sits with three or four individuals, with the broader company never knowing what it is or how to live it out. Marketing departments are unique in that they need to function as a department, but need the freedom to be facilitators of the brand’s philosophy throughout the organisation.

 

  1. Trying to be everything to everyone leads only to being nothing to anyone. It’s tempting to package as many points of difference as possible into your brand positioning. This only leads to a lack of focus, and staff generally unaware of that single reason the company exists, or how to explain it. A company’s brand positioning should be compelling, simple and entrenched to an extent that the CEO can ask any staff member what it is and get the same answer each time. Company positioning strategies and unique differentiation points are never nearly as unique as the company thinks they are. Often they aren’t unique at all. Avoid merely rephrasing what everyone else is saying.

 

  1. If you’re not solving a problem, or communicating that you’re solving a problem, you shouldn’t be in business. Positioning statements that are wishy washy claptrap about who the company is or what the company does are pointless. No one cares what you do. Tell the market how you’re going to solve their problem – then you’ll get them listening to you.

 

  1. Never put full trust in a digital or social media supplier. With all due respect to most of them who make an honest living, there are nevertheless many operators out there who are not entirely ethical, and attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of their clients. Don’t be the damsel in distress with the broken engine on the side of the road. Equip yourself with a rudimentary understanding of concepts, principles and best practises, so that you know what you’re looking for, and to ensure that you’re driving the process and strategy. Most importantly, so that you’re not being taken advantage of. You must lead the agency. The internet is at your disposal, and has all the answers to anything you want to know more about. There are elements within marketing which are constantly changing, and this requires you to evolve with it. My university textbooks never mentioned the term ‘Social Media’ once. Yet now it’s a cornerstone of marketing. Re-educate yourself all the time, or you’ll fall behind. This may even require some unlearning.

 

  1. It’s too easy to over-complicate strategy. Don’t fall in that trap just to seem more impressive. Avoid creating strategy so filled with fancy diagrams, buzz words and jargon that it loses every reader in a few seconds. At its core, strategy is incredibly simple – What are we doing, Where are we going, When are we doing it – and Why? You should be able to put your entire brand positioning strategy on one page.

 

  1. Word of mouth will always be more powerful than branding and advertising. Always. If word of mouth is failing, your company will fail. Advertising and marketing have a huge role to play in business growth and consumer awareness, but will never make up for an inferior product or service. A happy customer is your strongest marketing tool. One enthusiastic, loyal advocate of your brand is worth more to you than 100 indifferent customers.

 

  1. If you’re not first to market in a particular category or idea, it will be almost impossible to supplant the brand that was first to market. Better to find a point of difference where you are first, and genuinely distinct.

 

  1. Research your customers, staff, market and competitors continually. Make a point of it once a year to do a comprehensive exercise. Even if 90% of the findings are what you expected, you’ll always find one or two golden nuggets – insights that come and slap you in the face. Ensure that the questions you ask are identical year on year, to ensure the ability to find trends or movements. Also, even though you understand your competitors fully, don’t fall into the trap of basing your strategy and offering around competitors. You end up being a follower. Base it on your capability and what will make the biggest difference to your customers.

 

THE ONE CRITICAL THINKING HABIT THAT CAN CHANGE YOU – AND CHANGE THE WORLD

In my humble opinion, critical thinking is becoming more and more of a rare trait in society, especially with young adults. It’s a skill I’ve always admired in people above and below myself in the business world as well as in general life. Indeed, managers typically put critical thinking high up in the most desired traits they seek in young employees. With a high level critical thought comes an employee that can usually think their way around problems, engage well with fellow staff and generally display a high level of emotional intelligence.

In terms of the nature vs nurture issue, can critical thinking be learned? Absolutely. It is not something inherently missing or present in a person. Critical thinking can be developed by learning from experience as well as incorporating certain tools and practises for yourself.

For example, one of the key lessons I’ve learned in 10 years in the business world is that there are two sides to every story. Quite literally. One person will give me their particular take on a situation, which sounds incredibly convincing and agreeable. However, a day later I might find a different individual giving me a contrasting opinion on the same issue which suddenly makes the entire situation seem a great deal less clear cut. As a result, in many aspects of business and general life, I refuse to accept one person’s opinion on an issue or subject. There is always another side. Always.

So how do we actively improve critical thinking? It’s quite simple. In terms of habits to incorporate, critical thinking in a young individual can be vastly improved by one particular habit: Questioning yourself.

How many of us do this properly?

The obvious ways to question yourself are to ask things like:

Am I being biased or irrational here?

Is there another way to look at this?

Have I considered the other person’s point of view?

Yet my favourite question to pose to one’s self is one that would not only assist young managers as they move up in the business world, but would also go a long way towards healing divisiveness in the world and help bring people closer together:

What is the best possible argument against my viewpoint?

This particular question can be translated to all areas of your life. As you become more senior in your career, you find yourself responsible for more decision making. For each decision that you make, you should be asking yourself What is the best possible argument against me doing this?

Preparing a presentation? As you’re putting it together you should continually be asking yourself what the best possible point of disagreement is that someone could raise. If you’re going to present what you perceive to be an incredible idea to a client, you should have thought of the best possible reason the client could have for not going with your idea. Is it still an incredible idea?

Buying a house? Are you asking yourself what the best possible reasons are for not buying the house? As you can see, this applies to everything.

All over the internet, I continually observe that as a society we’ve become more divided on political and identity issues than I have ever seen in my lifetime. Where the endpoint of all this divisiveness is, I don’t know, but it is highly concerning. The great Aristotle wrote that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I suspect many of us shut out contrasting views, perhaps because our own views are so deeply ingrained and inflexible.

Perhaps instead of arguing with each other on the big issues in society, we should be arguing internally on our own first. What people need to be doing is asking the question: What is the best possible argument I could put forward against my own standpoint? If this practise happened more and more in the world, I could almost guarantee a significant closing of the divide.

Critical thought is one of the most powerful forces that can change you, and change the world.

 

Lessons in Love

A Tale of Two Restaurants

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A month ago on Valentine’s Day, the wife seemed pretty keen on Sushi that evening. Having a one year old at home means that it is a lot easier and convenient to order in, so on my way home I stopped at a nearby Sushi restaurant, Yamada Sushi (Waterfall Corner) to place an order and wait for it.

Before ordering, I experienced one of those moments where you should really trust your gut instinct before going ahead. There were 6 or 7 people hanging around the takeaway / payment counter in a way that seemed to display a lack of order or coherence. I couldn’t quite work out if there was a queue to order or not and when my turn was. Things were just a bit messy. Five minutes later I managed to place my order, and told the manager I’d wait at the sushi bar with a glass of wine. A few minutes later one of the waitresses arrived with the glass, and seeing the levels of disorder and how frenzied things were getting, I asked her for my bill before she forgot me entirely.

During the following few minutes I enjoyed my usual habit of observing the people around me and the social dynamics happening, but after 20 minutes with no bill and an empty drink, this started getting a little tiresome. I tried to find the waitress for my bill. Eventually I caught her attention and reminded her. Ten minutes later my elusive bill was nowhere to be seen and the chaos around the counter was now at boiling point, with 20 people crowding around. One big guy in a grey shirt was screaming at the manager about ordering an hour ago, even going to the extent of stepping behind the counter to wrap is own food. The problem was compounded by the fact that the manager was a gentlemen of far eastern descent whose English was extremely basic.

Restaurant customers going berserk is always a curious thing to me. It always shows a lack of class, self-control and just creates one big spectacle of yourself. If a place doesn’t deliver, just don’t go back.

I ventured into the chaos. There were packs of food stacked around haphazardly and the manager, looking increasingly frazzled, was clearly losing in his battle of bringing the situation under control. I noticed that the waitresses were too busy servicing the restaurant patrons to offer much help. It was one big mess. I realised that after 45 minutes my bill was still a long way off, while the food itself didn’t seem to be within sight at all.

I quietly walked out. I know, I know – I broke the law not paying for my wine, but I would have literally had to fight through 30 minutes of carnage to get it. They didn’t deserve my time or money. If Yamada Sushi Waterfall read this and want their money for the wine I had, I’ll gladly pay up. (It was a glass of house Sauvignon Blanc, by the way Yamada.)

Directly next to Yamada is an Indian restaurant called The Raj. I decided that Sushi had just changed to curry. I’d have to explain reasons why in detail to the wife. I walked in, and was greeted with a completely different atmosphere entirely. A waitress immediately came over to take my order. When done she told me it would take 10 minutes, and that I was welcome to take a seat in the comfortable lounge chair which she pointed to. The manager came by to ask if I was ok, after which another waiter came by and gave me a free glass of champagne, explaining that it was due to Valentine’s Day. I accepted. I was now two drinks down and I hadn’t paid for either of them.

Looking around it struck me that that despite being busy, the Raj had a sense of peace and control about it. Everyone knew their role. Unlike Yamada, the manager wasn’t bound to operational tasks behind the counter, but freely roamed to ensure customer satisfaction and staff efficiency. Unlike Yamada who seemed caught off guard by the high number of customers, The Raj had clearly expected the increased clientele levels due to Valentines Day and were prepared.

10 minutes later, as promised, the waitress brought me the food package and I left. I’m writing about this now, a month later, because the contrast between the two still astounds me.

What Yamada Sushi perhaps need to remember is that for every loud mouthed obnoxious prick like the big guy in grey at the counter, there are three or four people like me, who keep a sense of dignity and calm . . . but just don’t come back.

Valentine’s Day – for me another lesson in how to love or not love the customer.

Creativity Often Requires Imperfect Conditions

It seems clear to me that creativity doesn’t actually require perfect conditions, but often thrives under difficult circumstances. There are two examples of this. Firstly, an adequate amount of strife and argument, and secondly, time pressure.

In 1976 the band Fleetwood Mac recorded the album Rumours. It would go on to become one of the most iconic rock albums of the 70’s and rated by most as their best. What people don’t realise is that the album was made at a time when the band was in complete disarray due to romantic relationships between band members that had gone awry. On top of this there were creative differences, and a whole host of emotions. There are even stories about some band members not being able to be in the same room at the same time during the recordings. This led to them having to record different pieces at different times and fitting it together later to avoid people having to be in the same room. Stevie Nicks herself suggested that Fleetwood Mac created their best music when in the worst shape.

The other example is of Pink Floyd. Between the mid 70’s and mid 80’s the band’s creative forces were essentially split in two. Roger Waters on the one side, and David Gilmour and Richard Wright on the other. While Waters was taking control of the band creatively and pushing them into darker, more political areas, the other members pushed back. By all account some key band members ended up hating each other for long periods during these years. They fought about everything, from music styles to messaging to what songs to include and leave out. And yet, they were making some of the greatest albums ever made and most definitely the best Floyd albums ever.

It leads me to think that for optimal innovation in companies, one of the worst things you can possibly have is a group of people who all agree with each other and never challenge, argue or contest thoughts. Having the right levels of disagreements and the right types of arguments actually creates a more healthy energy and atmosphere for ideas. Underpinning so much of this is honesty. The ability to be open and honest with each other is essential.

And then there’s the tonic of time pressure. It’s always been my belief that that creativity and time pressure go hand in hand. In my own experiences it’s happened countless times, where the good idea comes at the last minute. After going in circles for weeks, the solution finally comes at the 11th hour when the pressure is on. It’s happened so many times I now expect it.

If you yourself are coming up to a deadline and you don’t have the solution or the big idea yet, it’s actually okay. In fact, it might be useful to channel that energy and rush of the time pressure into creativity. So before taking a week to work on ideas, maybe set yourself some real time pressure – my guess is that it will work better.

Where SA’s tertiary education should be heading

Sometimes even I need to break from my free market, private enterprise beliefs to an extent. The #feesmustfall movement has gained high exposure and news interest in the last year. But looking beyond the politics of the situation, I am a firm believer that access to universities should be free for deserving students. Key word is deserving.  I’m a big believer in equal opportunity. I’m not a believer in equality. If that sounds pretty harsh and heartless, let me explain. As a society we’re having the wrong conversations about this. Equality aims to allow everybody in society to have the same wealth levels. Equal opportunity aims to allow everybody in society to have the same opportunity levels. There is an infinite difference between the two. Equality disregards abilities, contribution to society and effort, while Equal Opportunity rewards these things, while allowing all to commence careers in the same starting blocks.

Even a steadfast capitalist like me sees the tragedy of a truly talented learner with a major aptitude in a particular field whose parents can’t afford the exorbitant fees that universities ask for. If the learner fails in bursary / NSFAS applications, the only alternative is to then be saddled with excessive student debt for the first years of their career. Or of course just not study at all.

 I’m in no way an expert on these things but it seems pretty clear to me that free universities are a real possibility with more frugal, sensible government spending. For a start, not doing things like spending R4 billion on a private jet, over R200 million on a president’s private residence and forcing civil servants and ministers to travel in economy class would be a major start. Then government simply has to get out of what it has no business being involved in anyway. Start with the SABC, The Post Office and SAA. There’s no need for a government controlled broadcaster, airline or mail carrier. The private, free market will provide this better and cheaper. That R4 billion alone could pay for between 80 000 and 120 000 tertiary students for a year.

However, can universities retain their levels of quality? Free access would need to create a philosophy of accepting the best performers from schools due to limited space. With the high demand and free access, universities would need to keep their entry requirements stringent and levels of quality high. But would this happen? The market would need to be clear that the concept of free universities does not result in the granting of automatic access. I also think there needs to be a comprehensive scientific ‘suitability test’ system to ensure university students aren’t enrolling in something that they have little natural propensity for. This would help reduce the high dropout rates. Universities need the muscle to be able to enforce this and insist on suitable career fields for the new students.

Quality issues aside, there are major relevance issues with universities. Universities are becoming increasingly bloated, bureaucratic, archaic institutions out of touch with the modern, real world. It’s costing in excess of R100 000 for 3 years to get the holy grail of the degree. And yet the content of the programme or degree is often so far removed from what is happening in the real world. In many cases, like in my own profession, marketing, the degree’s content is of a nature that teach yourself online for free if you know where to look. Graduates are leaving universities with very little idea of how to function optimally in the workplace and minimal sense of critical thought. Speaking for myself, 95% of what I know about marketing and branding has come from learning-by-doing, while being lucky enough to observe and work with two or three real experts during my first few years of being employed. These are people I’m still enormously grateful for. What I learned at university has been largely irrelevant and added little value to my contributions in the workplace.

So I say let these institutions adapt, skim down or disappear entirely. We don’t need to be sentimental about them. Perhaps one day the sacred university degree will lose its shine and charm as employers and the market alike realise just how obsolete it is.

The reason I say this is because the real opportunity for tertiary education lies in industry-specific initiatives and collaborations. If corporations and industries are getting graduates who are not work-ready and out of tune with real work operations, why not take education into their own hands? This could save millions in unnecessary training and time, and allow the new employees to start adding value immediately. Some industries have done similar, but major opportunities lie in this idea.

Let’s take something like banking. Every year the big banks are some of the big corporates who take their pick of graduates from the top universities. These graduates, for the most part, are picked from generic BComs in fields such as marketing or general management. They have not received any specialised, focused training on how banking works. So despite them being strong academic performers, they still need a whole year in something usually called a Graduate Development Programme, where they learn how to operate in a particular industry and company.

Now imagine a scenario where all the big banks combine to set up a collaborated ‘Banking University’ which teaches students actual real-word knowledge and skills related specifically to banking in South Africa. This Banking University can set up physical delivery ‘campuses’ in main centres, and would easily be able to pull disgruntled academic professionals from universities to partner with banking professionals. The banks set this up in partnership and run the syllabi and activities according to their own terms, based on what they know they want from graduates. So students within this Banking University learn about the banking sector, the economic environment, how banks work, customer service in banking, the money flow within a bank, etc etc. They also get to practise these skills in a fully simulated banking environment. So after 3 years they walk out knowing the absolute ins and outs of banking in South Africa, and could walk into any bank immediately begin adding value. Would your big banks not find this group of graduates a whole lot more appealing? This could create a scenario such as the American Football NFL ‘draft’ system, where the teams contest in taking their pick of the best players leaving college football. In this case each year the big banks would engage in a ‘talent war’ of sorts to snap up their picks.

This same thinking can apply to almost any industry, from banking to retail to financial services to food manufacturing to travel. Let’s call them ‘Industry Universities’. We can still align the curriculum within these to adhere to a reformed unit standard and NQF level, so that graduates still have the assurance of walking away with a Bcom or the like. Or maybe not. If your particular ‘Industry University’ gains enough traction with the market through quality and relevance, the Industry University could disregard government accreditation standards completely and operate on their own set of standards.

So the end result is a range of tertiary institutions created by industry, serving industry, whose graduates can walk straight into employment and commence immediately without in-company training.

A Retail University

A Banking University

A Marketing University

A Public Service University

A Financial Services University

A Tourism University

And so on and so forth.

Eventually what you might start seeing is that learners in schools start identifying industries to work in rather than careers. For example, the learner might decide that he/she really likes retail, and they’re happy to pursue a career in retail only, knowing that this will involve various positions across a spectrum of careers. They know that through a Retail University they’ll graduate and stand a good chance of getting a foot in the door at a big retailer, and they’re happy to start as a packer and work their way up. They’re also comfortable that in retail there will always be employment and growth opportunities, and so they should be.

The only downside to these Industry Universities is that they wouldn’t be free. They couldn’t possibly be. But ultimately you’d create the environment where the school leaver has a choice: A generic theoretical degree for free which probably won’t give direct access to or preference in the job market. Or a practical, focused qualification in a specific industry which involves student fees, but which guarantees better access to jobs and entry level opportunities. It’s worth considering that government could, and perhaps should be getting involved in facilitating these conversations with industry leaders who will in all likelihood be competitors.

The above is of course wishful thinking to an extent. Whether or not these ideas materialise, the ideal scenario for South African education is for a healthy combination of government involvement and freedom of private enterprise to assist as much as possible in tertiary education. Government’s role should be equal opportunity while private education and enterprise’s role should be job creation.  Let universities be free. BUT, give the private free market the freedom to provide a viable, relevant alternative.

Never Stop Learning

Graduation Speech – Cape Town (29 July 2016)

We’re here today to honour the graduates sitting in front of me, and we’re here today in the name of education. I can’t think of anything more worthy of celebration in a young person’s life than educational achievements such as this. The unfortunate thing about the term ‘education’ is how as a society we’ve come to view the term in isolation – and only associate it with formal institutions such as schools, universities or colleges such as MSC. Here at MSC you have gained vital skills and knowledge in a focused area of your choice, and for that I congratulate you thoroughly. I have confidence that you will apply your knowledge and skills learned here to good use in your chosen career paths. But your own education must live on beyond this day and into the rest of your lives.

Education is a lifelong aspect, that begins from the moment we are born. The toddler learning to walk stumbles countless times before the first stagger from mother to father. The child learning to ride the bike falls over a number of times before riding confidently. The teenager often tries out many different fashion styles and haircuts before understanding what works for them, through trial and error. If you’re like me, when you learned to drive a car, your clutch control was probably horrendous until it became second nature. Or perhaps you met someone with an alternative point of view on something that made you think. These are merely a few examples that show that the act of learning happens continually in life, and often we don’t realise this fact.

We’re living in challenging times. There can be no doubt about this. Every day worldwide we are forced to confront stories of poverty, violence and hatred. Indeed, education will remain the key element in overcoming these challenges, and it is young graduates such as yourselves who will mould the future world and what it will become. So you can perhaps understand the magnitude of how much sits upon your young shoulders. You are the torchbearers of the next generation, and society is yours to shape. Despite the challenges, the modern world we live in today is also by far the most exciting period ever to be alive. Technology is advancing at rates far, far quicker than ever before in the history of mankind.

It took approximately 2 decades for television to move over from black and white to colour TV. Yet, it’s taken less than a decade for cellular phones to become more powerful than the combined strength all the computers that sent man to the moon for the first time. In 1956 about 6 men were needed to move a 5mb hard drive. Now 64 gigs sit comfortably in your pocket. It took nearly 100 years for traditional film cameras to move over to digital cameras. In contrast it’s taken just 10 years for small cameras to be almost obsolete, due to your smartphone being an even better option.

As we speak companies like Tesla are in advanced testing phases of cars that drive themselves. Through stem cell research scientists are coming increasingly close to the ability to grow an entire human organ. Some predictions show that within the next couple of decades scientists could be able to grow an entire human body primarily through stem cells and atoms. Which would effectively mean that you could have a backup body of yourself sitting in storage in case you need any organs.

Ten years ago, Twitter was still the sound of birds chirping. A blackberry was still a fruit, and a tablet was something you maybe took when you had a headache. Now these words have very different associations attached to them. In fact, studies show that the popular job titles in the workplace 20 years from now don’t even exist yet. So how do we keep up with this rapidly changing and advancing world? We keep learning. We keep enquiring.

The modern world is becoming more and more conducive young peoples’ success, simply because of the rate of change and the fact that young people are usually at the forefront of that change. At the age of 21, Steve Jobs started developing the first Apple computer in Steve Wozniak’s garage. At the age of 20, Bill Gates founded a small software company called Microsoft that would go on to change how computer systems operated. In his dorm room at Harvard at the age of 20, Mark Zuckerberg started playing around with something called ‘The Facebook’. A decade later, some of us cannot imagine life without this tool.

These 3 men were different from each other in many ways, but the one thing they had in common aside from their young age is very clear to me: inquiring minds. The ability to look deeper into a given subject, the ability to analyse something in a different way, and the willingness to say ‘We can improve on existing knowledge. We can better this.’

If you had to speak to a person 100 years ago, and explain to that person the ease of access we have to knowledge and information, I don’t think they’d believe you. With the touch of a button we have access to pretty much any subject matter we would like to know more about. We have google search, we have podcasts on any topic you’re interested in. You can follow Twitter accounts of people you can learn from. You can get a guided video tutorial on Youtube to show you how to do almost anything. You can download free e-books on practically any knowledge area. And this is with you all the time – accessible on something that sits in your pocket. In a couple of seconds, I can learn about the complex theory of bimolecular reactions . . . if I wanted to. Imagine explaining this to someone in 1916 instead of 2016. Even in my lifetime, I remember having to go to the library to find more about a given subject. Now it’s just one search result away in 10 seconds.

As the great Albert Einstein said “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” I firmly believe that those people who have the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge and apply it to their daily lives will be the pioneers of our civilization.

As a society we need to be protecting the most precious resource we have – the individual mind. We need to ensure that the inquiring mind of the human being is able to take whatever path it chooses. And we need to be fighting any force that seeks to enslave our minds or which forces us to think a certain way or insists on telling us what to think.

The other characteristic of these pioneers in the world is a complete disregard for the fear of failure. Bill Gates watched his first company crumble. Walt Disney was told he wasn’t creative enough. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job and told that she was ‘Unfit for TV’.

Make peace with the inevitability of failure, and understand that failure is a cornerstone of education. Failure is only a tragedy when you haven’t given it your all. Failure teaches us to try things in a different way. It shows us what and where we need to improve. It teaches us that regardless of our level of expertise, improvement is still possible. Ultimate success in any field or any endeavour is not a straight line, but rather jaggedly zig zagging line denoting trial, error, and improvement.

I’ve spoken about inquiring minds and critical thinking, but the critical thought should not begin and end with the world around us but must extend to the world within us. How often do we think critically of ourselves? How often do we truly self-reflect? How often are we willing to be mature enough to say, ‘I was wrong’?  I’ve already highlighted the challenges we face in the world every day. How many of these challenges would be reduced if more people were willing to self-reflect and work together?  Understand that being critical of yourself is not degrading negative self-talk, but rather a sign of strength and intelligence. A simple piece of advice I could offer you is this: If you’re open and honest about your weaknesses or shortcomings, the world cannot shame you or expose you.

So the people who’ve become successful in the world and in their fields have a couple of things in common: inquiring minds, and they were fearless of failure. But there is a third thing that these people understand more than anyone. And that is that the only person in control of your success is yourself. People can help you along the way. There are experts out there who will hopefully teach you many things, but ultimately it is only you and your actions that will determine your success. The universe is indifferent to those who remain indifferent. Go head first into your endeavours with a smile on your face and passion in your heart, and the positive energy will follow you.

In his many years in prison, Nelson Mandela kept a piece of paper with a few lines of poetry. Many suggest that it was these lines that saw him through in the end. The lines were:

I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

So to the graduates sitting in front of me, here is my final advice to you as you head out into the world:

Believe in your convictions, while always welcoming a different opinion. Treat everybody with respect, while never fearing to voice your own opinion. Listen to all advice and see all directions but remember that you are the one behind the wheel. Measure yourself on your actions and results, not your words or promises. Let the world around you be your school and let your experiences be your teacher.

In summary, even if you forget most of what I’ve said today, I want you to just remember three words: NEVER STOP LEARNING

Thank You