Thursday, November 15, 2007

The best dreams happen with your eyes wide open

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Harvey Mackay's Column This Week

The best dreams happen with your eyes wide open

By Harvey Mackay

"Every once in a while someone you know has a profound impact on your life," my friend Judy Corson wrote to me, promising that the website she included in her email would be a real gem. Judy, who is a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner, knows all about that stuff.

What she recommended to me was a webcast of a September lecture given by Dr. Randy Pausch, with whom she served on the board of NPD Group Inc., a global market research company. He is a faculty member at Carnegie-Mellon University, started the Entertainment Technology Center and is known as the most famous teacher and developer of software for the electronic games industry.

Sadly, Dr. Pausch is also dying of cancer. He was participating in a lecture series of what faculty members would discuss if this were their last lecture. He chose not to speak about his illness or his family, but instead addressed realizing your childhood dreams. His lecture is fascinating, and commenting from a public speaker's point of view, I have to say, I never would have fallen asleep in his class.

Dr. Pausch shared some pretty wide-ranging goals he had as a child, thus allowing his audience to recall their own youthful aspirations in the context of their adult lives. The first part of his lecture was devoted to six of his own childhood dreams:

  • Being in zero gravity, which he accomplished with a group of students in a simulator.
  • Playing in the NFL, a dream he didn't live, but did garner some great advice from his boyhood coaches, including one who told his team to practice with no footballs. His point was that they needed to learn the fundamentals before the fancy stuff.
  • Authoring an article in the World Book Encyclopedia, which may seem like an unusual dream for a kid, but check out "Virtual Reality" in the World Book now and you'll find his name next to the article.
  • Being Captain Kirk, even though he wasn't the smartest guy on the Enterprise. Dr. Pausch was impressed with Captain Kirk's leadership skills and eventually got to meet William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk. He decided it was very cool to meet one of your boyhood idols, especially when he comes to your lab to see the cool stuff you are doing.
  • Winning stuffed animals. Sounds like every kid's dream, and Pausch had colleagues bring a number of huge bears onto the stage. Show and tell deluxe!
  • Being a Disney Imagineer. Most kids are satisfied with a trip to the Magic Kingdom. Not Pausch—he decided he wanted to make the stuff. He applied for a job and was rejected, but persevered and arranged a sabbatical during which he could help with a virtual reality component of the Aladdin's magic carpet ride attraction. At the end of the sabbatical, he was offered a job, which he turned down to return to academia.

"Brick walls are there for a reason," he said. "They let us know how badly we want something." Pausch repeatedly pointed out where the brick walls could have interrupted his plans, and found ways to climb over the walls instead. His creativity is clearly not limited to his virtual reality research and teaching.

He went on to talk about enabling the childhood dreams of others. That he became a professor allowed him to have a huge impact on his students, to encourage them to use all their talents and abilities to make their dreams come true. But he went a step further with the development of a system called Alice, which helps millions of kids "have fun while learning something hard." Fun is a big part of his being. I like that in a person!

Finally, he shared the lessons he has learned. Never lose your childlike wonder. Help others. Be loyal. Never give up. Tell the truth. Apologize when you screw up. Focus on others. Find the best in everybody. Don't complain, just work harder. And remember, you can't get there alone.

This is an extraordinary lecture, and I encourage you to watch it at mms:// . It will be an hour well spent. This guy may teach about virtual reality, but he has real life nailed. All the best to you, Dr. Pausch.

Mackay's Moral: Childhood dreams are not all child's play.

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Vipin K. Singh