In his commencement address on May 8, Curtis Carlson spoke to the class of 2011 about the necessity of innovation and creativity in today’s workplace and the importance of honoring the support given by family and friends.
Carlson — chairman, CEO and president of SRI International — is a widely sought-after expert on innovation and competitiveness and a leader in developing high-definition television broadcast standards in the U.S. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to a task force on research and development, and he advises government leaders around the world on innovation, competitiveness and educational reform.
Carlson began his speech with words of wisdom he typically shares with his new employees, emphasizing the importance of being passionate about making a difference and the value of creativity and innovation.
“Ideas and creativity, unlike natural resources, are an unlimited resource,” he said. “It is a world of abundance only for those who can see the opportunities ahead and have the skills to take advantage of them. Without these skills, it can seem like a world of scarcity. Innovation is the only way we are going to solve the world’s major issues — growth, prosperity, environmental sustainability and security.”
He stressed that these are among the “few principles that really matter, and they apply to any field you might enter, whether the Peace Corps, government, or a company.”
Kelly Landers, ’11, an interdisciplinary studies major who plans to teach special education in Washington, D.C., with Teach for America, felt Carlson’s message was relevant across disciplines. “The impression I had was that [the speech] was going to be purely business-oriented, so it was nice that he tried to apply his experiences to all of our experiences,” she said. “What he does is not something I’m looking into, but there were still nuggets of truth that apply to me.”
Carlson elaborated on the necessity of innovation, instructing graduates to build on a desire to achieve something important. “Innovation is the transformation of a novel idea into something that people want,” he said. “It’s not just a clever idea. It’s not just an invention. People have to actually use or experience what you have created. It is about making a positive difference for others. In today’s world, that will be your job, whatever you do — creating new value for people to use or experience.”
“You have to think about what you want to do and figure it out,” said Oliver Kazenga, ’11, a studio art major who hopes to enroll in graduate school. “If you’re not motivated about what you want to do, then you’re not going to go anywhere.”
Carlson’s message went beyond individual creativity — he explained that good ideas must be shared with others who share the same vision and level of passion. “Working alone is just too hard,” he said. “You need someone to question your ideas at every step, add other ideas and provide emotional support.” Graduates were reminded that “few meaningful accomplishments are achieved alone,” and they should take the time to thank the parents, family, friends, professors and mentors who helped them along the way.
“He talked about people around you inspiring you and [the importance of] being around thoughtful people,” said Darius Naficy, ’11, a political science and rhetoric and communications studies double major, who plans to work for a marketing agency in New York. “It was really insightful. It made me appreciate my friends and the people in the network I have around me.”
Carlson also encouraged members of the class of 2011 to return the favor as they move forward with their lives. “Be a friend, a teacher or a mentor to help someone else achieve his or her dream, too,” he said. “You know from your own experience how powerful that help can be — when someone believes in you before you know you can do something.”