Jon Lovett, who spent three years as a speech writer for President Barack Obama, delivered an outstanding Keynote Commencement Address for Pitzer College’s graduating class on 18th May 2013. A truly Flawsome speech, he started with: “Hey, guys. Graduates, how are you guys feeling? I, for one, think we look amazing in these gowns,” and compared everyone (himself included) to looking like “flamboyant gay judges”.
He went on to say that he wasn’t going to waste their time with a typical commencement speech, and would do his best to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable to say. Stating that one of the greatest threats we face is bullshit, Jon delivered three honest, practical lessons about “cutting the B.S” from which we can all learn, not just college graduates. Here’s my summary of them:
1. Don’t cover for your inexperience
You have to be confident in your potential and aware of your inexperience. There are moments in life when you’ll have a different point of view because you have a fresh set of eyes, because you don’t care how something has been done before; there is another way, a better way to do it. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you’re wrong and you should shut up and listen to somebody who’s been around the block.
When we’re new at something it’s worth being more solicitous of the judgment of those around us. Be eager to learn. It’s okay to be sceptical, but also be humble and confident in yourself.
2. Know when to speak up and when to hold back
On the other side the coin, sometimes you’re going to be inexperienced, naïve, untested and totally right. The way Jon decides when is the right time to speak up or hold back is the subway rule: “If you see something, say something.” Call B.S. when you see it and don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces and throw a punch or two to make a point (metaphorically). Though it’s difficult to strike the balance every time, Jon says “it helps to be very charming” and that he’d rather be wrong and cringe than right and regret not speaking up. If you’re not too stubborn, you’ll learn and grow and get better at striking that balance until your inexperience becomes experience.
3. Know that being honest, both about what you do know and what you don’t, can and will pay off
Jon said: “Up until recently I would have said that the only proper response to our culture of B.S. is cynicism, that it would just get worse and worse, but I don’t believe that any more.” We may have reached peak bullshit and increasingly those that push back against the noise and nonsense, those who refuse to accept that untruths of politics and commerce and entertainment and government will be rewarded and we may be at the beginning of something important. Be responsible for one another and carry yourselves with integrity. It’s exciting that maybe, just maybe, those traits don’t just mean you’ll do good, but this earnestness, this authenticity, will help you succeed in a society that is demanding those qualities with both hands.
In my book, ‘Flawsome’, I talk about Political Correctness, and how as business we can cut the B.S. in our marketing to great effect. I drew a lot of inspiration from a book called ‘Bullshift’ by Andrew Horabin. If you’ve already read my book, then I’d suggest reading that one too. It’s short and to the point (no B.S) and certainly worth the read – it’ll change the way you do business.
You can watch Jon’s commencement address here.