Monday, October 27, 2008

The Last Lecture




I hope this review gets published in the BCAS Journal as well. But, I could not wait for that to happen. So here it is:




The Last Lecture
Author: Randy Pausch, Professor, Carnegie Mellon with Jeffrey Zaslow
Price: Rs. 295
Publisher: Hachette, UK (Distributed by Hachette, India)

Brick walls are there for a reason!

Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, gave his ‘Last Lecture’ – titled “Really achieving your childhood dreams”, a last lecture in many more ways than one.

This lecture become an Internet sensation, with You Tube reaching his message of “Celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities”, across the world in nano-seconds. His book – “The Last Lecture”, a New York Times bestseller, has likewise touched many hearts, including mine.

He delivered this lecture, on September 18, 2007, knowing fully well that he was dying of cancer and had just three-six months of good health ahead of him. Unfortunately, while Randy succumbed to pancreatic cancer a few months later on July 25, 2008, at a young age of 47, he through his Last Lecture has left behind a precious legacy, not just for his young children who will one day understand the video (as this lecture was taped for them) but for all of us.

The Last Lecture is a common title for talks on college campuses, such as Stanford or for that matter, Carnegie Mellon. The crème de la crème from the academia are invited to talk about what matters to them most and impart wisdom during their “Last Lecture”. For Randy, it was really his last chance to let the world know: How to Live!

He began his power point presentation by showing his CT scans, revealing ten malignant tumours – this slide was titled – The Elephant in the Room, but after that he talked about living. His took the 400 plus audience through his dreams – his childhood, his experiences with colleagues and superiors and students. He taught them all – how to live!

Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his life and career, repeating: "Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things." Since then, these words have emboldened many to face obstacles head on.

In today’s economy which is facing a slow-down, this book is worth a read, especially for us chartered accountants who have to deal with clients who are facing a downturn and grappling to find a foothold in a fluid and every changing global market.

Here are some gems (rather ‘panch ratna’):
o Don’t complain, just work harder: Don’t waste your energy in complaining about your problem. Rather, use it to solve the problem. Citing examples, Randy says that – “Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.” You’d be surprised how well things turn out, even if you utilise 1/10th the energy you would otherwise use in complaining.
o Dare to take a risk: In a virtual-reality course, which Randy taught he encouraged students to just try and not worry about failure. At the end of the semester, he presented a stuffed penguin—“The First Penguin Award”—to the team that took the biggest gamble while not meeting its goals. The award came from the idea that when penguins jump in water that might have predators. But well, one of them’s got to be the first penguin. In essence, it was a prize for “glorious failure.”Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted. And it can be the most valuable thing you have to offer.
o Don’t Obsess over what people think: If nobody ever worried about what was in other people’s heads we’d all be 33 per cent more effective in our lives and on our jobs. Randy told his team: If I haven’t said anything, you have nothing to worry about. Of course, if he wasn’t’ happy about something, this was directly mentioned, sometimes not so tactfully. The bottom line here is: be upfront with your team. Let them know what you are thinking of them – whether good or bad. Do reassure them not to be obsessive about what you may be thinking or for that matter anyone else – else there is just a loss of productivity!
o Look for the Best In Everybody: Randy got this advice from Jon Snoddy, his hero at Disney Imagineering, an animation company. “If you wait long enough,” he had told Randy said, “people will surprise and impress you.” When you’re frustrated with people, when you’re angry, it may be because you haven’t given them enough time. Be Patient. In the end, people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting. It will come out.
o Never give up: Randy says, “Until I got on stage at my last lecture, I had never told students or colleagues at Carnegie Mellon that I had been rejected when I had applied there initially (it was to do his PhD). He indicated that perhaps he was unsure of what people would think. But added that, he should have been telling this story for years, because the moral is: If you want something bad enough, never give up (and take a boost, when offered). Brick walls are there for a reason. And once you get over them – even if someone has practically had to throw you over – it can be helpful to others to tell them how you did it.
For finding other gems which include Dreaming Big, Having Fun, Tapping into your inner child, Making time for what truly matters and yes, saying Thank you, do pick up this book.

Looking at characters from the famous children’s book – “Winnie-the Pooh”, Randy decided early on that he would be the fun loving Tigger and not the sad Eeyore. This book teaches us to be like Tigger even in the face of adversities.


PS: This review got published in the January 2009 edition of The Bombay Chartered Accountants Journal.