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2022 High Point University Commencement Address

Today, I want to talk about a light and fluffy subject: your generation’s role in steering humanity in the right direction. No pressure, Dalton. 

But in all seriousness, Dalton, I love what you shared about “leaving everywhere you go better than you found it…and finding ways to give grace and inspiration to the people around you.”  

I want to talk today about HOW to do that as you are all simultaneously challenged and blessed with graduating as our world is re-entering a stage of dramatic consequence. 

The ship of humanity is moving in the wrong direction, and it will be upon all of you to steer it back on track. 

To illustrate this point, I want to compare the circumstances when my father’s generation came of age, to those when my generation and your generation graduated from college. 

My father was fifteen-and-a-half when he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp by American soldiers. He was barely alive.  He never got to go to school past third grade, let alone college. Several of your grandparents were around your age when they were sent to free Europe from tyranny and darkness. 

By contrast, when I was fifteen years-old, my family immigrated to America from Mexico. I was able to attend college during a period when passionate but cordial debate was the norm. I remember observing political leaders vehemently disagree on a particular topic, while maintaining a friendship rooted in respect. Our world was far from perfect – but the arc of human progress trended in an upward direction. Freedom, open markets, human rights, civility, and the quest for knowledge were all advancing.  

It seemed almost too good to be true.  In fact, it was so good that we began to lose sight that Our Great American Experiment isn’t so much a fixed state of affairs as it is a purposeful daily affirmation – something that we opt into, live out, and vote for not once every four years, but every single day – through how we engage with one another. 

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Follow this to ensure your company is never starved for growth

Fishing for opportunity? Across all entrepreneurial pursuits, The Rule of Moby Dicks, Mackerels, and Minnows applies. Use it to help you allocate your time and resources to ensure that you are never starved for growth.

Think of Moby Dicks as transformative once-in-a-lifetime targets like the giant national retail account you want to land or the big funder who can also be a powerful strategic partner. If you spent all of your time hunting only for Moby Dicks, pursuing just the impossible deals with no guarantee of materializing, you might never be able to feed yourself – and could eventually starve. On the other hand, if you strictly played it safe, going after only the tiniest, easy-to-catch accounts – call them Minnows – you might also wind up with a grumbling stomach, staving off hunger from living snack to snack. 

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Understanding the Tricky Balance When Launching Social Startups

At a time when our world is facing unprecedented challenges, from climate change to political polarization to a global pandemic, entrepreneurs and nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders cannot afford to operate in silos. Entrepreneurs possess resourcefulness, creativity, and initiative; heads of nonprofit organizations are equipped with depth of knowledge, purpose, and the patient determination that comes with that purpose. Together, these partners can turbocharge impact if they properly calibrate their respective contributions to create new social enterprises.

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Both Sides Are Minimizing Violence. Americans Must Fight for Our Nation

Shocking news emerged this week from the bipartisan committee investigating the January 6 attack: On that dark day, Fox News hosts and former-President Donald Trump’s son sent text messages begging for Trump to address the nation and stop the violent riot. Yet many Republicans continue to downplay the insurrection that dangerously undermined electoral integrity and the rule of law and threatened our democracy.

But minimizing violence isn’t only happening on the Republican side. From Philadelphia to Los Angeles, District Attorneys promoting an anti-police narrative and lax crime-fighting policies have contributed to an alarming rise in homicides and spiraling crime rates. Yet despite the skyrocketing crime in liberal bastions, many of us have family and friends living in these cities who refuse to accept that controversial policies to suspend prosecution for many crimes may have played a role in the violent wave.

There is no comparing an attempted insurrection with day to day crime; one is significantly worse, and a much bigger threat to our democracy. But both sides are suffering from a partisan blindness that has led to minimizing any violence that appears to implicate their leaders. And it presents a huge threat to our country.

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Breaking society’s bad habits Starts With Us

Decades ago, hatred began to build in online chat rooms, where people (protected by the anonymity of their computer screens) could post judgmental vitriol with little accountability. We thought these ugly conversations would stay contained to small virtual spaces; but when millions of people adopt the same bad habits, those behaviors add up to define who we are. Hatred begets hatred and nasty words based on nastier (and often false) sentiments, have since spread through social media – and bubbled over into the offline world, too.

Today, we seem quicker than ever to judge one another, and slower than ever to forgive. We often assume negative intent instead of positive, and point our fingers before we’ve taken the time to explore the nuances of a situation. More and more, we’ve replaced trust in one another with chronic skepticism and defensiveness. We have become accustomed to pitting “us” against “them,” and dividing the world – and its complex issues – into two incompatible halves.

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Founders should follow these 5 steps to turn ideas into reality

You have an innovative and differentiated product that has withstood your relentless scrutiny and you are ready to go forth and conquer. (In other words, you’ve mastered what I call the “3 Cs of Entrepreneurship,” which you can read about here.)  Now it’s time to talk about how to build your ideas into reality. I approach this process by working through five key steps. It’s critical to give all of them your equal attention and to understand how they influence one another.

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Kind Snacks founder explains his ‘3 Cs of Entrepreneurship’ (as seen in Fast Company)

On last season’s Shark Tank, the judges heard pitches from two impressive entrepreneurs who struggled to articulate the key attributes that differentiated their product. They could not explain how their offering stood out from those of their competitors. It struck me that that they may have skipped a critical step along an entrepreneur’s journey: the part where we become our own worst critics.

An entrepreneur’s journey unfolds in three distinct, dependent, and yet entirely separate phases. While it’s important to start by dreaming without restraint, boundless brainstorms need to be followed by ruthless scrutiny. If and only if our idea stands up against comprehensive critique, are we able to go forth as the committed crusader and pursue launching our idea into the world. It’s very important that each phase be embraced fully and that once you move on from one, you move on completely.

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