This is my 18th set of graduation remarks, actually 19 if you count my remarks in Shanghai last Sunday. And even though each class is unique in personality, the same dilemma comes up year after year. Do I structure my remarks about the personality of the class, pepper my remarks with a few funny anecdotes about individuals in that class, and run the risk of saying the wrong thing or making a funny that falls flat? Or do I take the safer route and offer some sage advice to the graduates as they head off to college?
This year was no different until I saw a great quote in the Delta Sky magazine. The quote is “Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” I immediately thought it would make the bones of a good Crossties article or in this case, graduation remarks, so I wrote it down. Subsequent research found this quote to be attributed to no fewer than four different people but I am going to attribute it to Dorothy Parker, a 20th century satirist, poet, and Academy Award nominated screenwriter.
“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.”
Take a second and think about the most creative people in our lifetime. How many of you thought of Steve Jobs? Perhaps an obvious selection given two movies and any number of biographies that have appeared since his death. But Steve Jobs had a brilliantly wild mind and the discipline to change the way we go about our daily lives. An adopted child, a college dropout, and a Zen Buddhist, Jobs loved Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and Melville. But he also loved the discipline of engineering and design. The results are beautifully engineered products that have re-envisoned how we interact with the Internet, listen to music, or watch movies. His wild mind allowed him to envision new ways to do things and his disciplined eye made those visions a reality.
Did anyone think about Matt Parker? Does anyone know who Matt Parker is? At the age of 21, Matt Parker and two of his friends wrote and filmed a wildly crazy three-minute short movie titled Alferd Packer, The Musical. It just so happens that Alferd Packer was a member of the Donner Party who was stranded in a snowstorm in Loveland Pass and he survived the ordeal by resorting to cannibalism. What was different from other student shorts at the University of Colorado was that Matt Parker raised $125,000 to make the short into a full-length musical movie and wound up selling the movie to a distributor for $1,000,000.
Matt now has five Emmy Awards as the co-creator of South Park and won three Tonys and a Grammy for writing the Broadway musical, Book of Mormon. Matt Parker not only had the wild mind to produce some of the most funny and
irreverent comedy ever, but he also had the discipline to generate initial investment capital, market his product, and solicit potential buyers.
One of the best explorations of creativity can be found Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind.” It is nearly ten years old now and only available in paperback but it still makes a great graduation gift. In fact, this is the book I gave Daniel Habib ’18 last Wednesday for the Headmaster’s Book Prize. In this book, Pink tells the story of shopping for coffee makers at
Target only to find that there were 11 different types of coffee makers to choose from. Each was well made, each well engineered, and each capable of producing a good cup of coffee. In other words they were built by the disciplined eye of engineers. In order to compete in such a marketplace, discipline demanded that manufacturers distinguish themselves by being the least expensive. To do this, they reduced costs by offshoring the manufacturing to a country with low wages.
This would lead you to believe that the best-selling coffee maker at Target would be one of the least expensive. But surprise, surprise… Pink found that the best-selling coffee maker at Target was the most expensive coffee maker they sold. It was made in northern Europe at high-wage factories. So why, when it makes the same cup of coffee as the other coffee makers, do people choose to spend more money?
It is because the wild minds at the Braun Corporation realized that because a coffee maker often sits in plain view on
a kitchen counter, people might be willing to spend more money to buy a coffee maker that looks good. Design would
differentiate their product, assuming the discipline of design ensured it worked well.
At North Cross School, I believe we have done a remarkable job of providing you a disciplined eye. You understand the requirement of hard work, careful preparation, and thoughtful action. Your success in these areas has gotten you into some of the best colleges in America. And, we have even given you a smattering of the wild mind. King Henry, Aida, the creative arts, travel to all corners of the world, classmates from all corners of the world, visiting speakers from many disciplines and perspectives, great literature, and conversations with a bright and active faculty are all parts of developing your wild mind.
But maybe with the single exception of Albert Newberry’s jazz abilities, we have not equipped you nearly as well in the area of wild mind as we have disciplined eye. And it is fair to argue that Albert’s jazz abilities are not the product of North Cross School, but we will claim them all the same, and enjoy them forever. But all of this is okay. It is okay because you are not finished products. We are sending you off to college, and graduate school, and interesting places of employment. Your disciplined eye will ensure you a comfortable and successful life. What I wish for you is for you to allow your wild mind to develop so that you can recognize and participate in the next great things to shape our world.
Your future lies in a world with jobs that have not even been created, working with people a half a world away, and will require you to go beyond good engineering. To be successful, you will need to be the creative force in the room. I trust in your disciplined eye and look forward to watching your wild mind hard at work.