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BGI

BGI Commencement Speeches

Below are the speeches from the BGI Commencement. After two years of intense work, I finally crossed the stage this past Sunday. Thank all of you for all the support. I couldn't have done it without you.

Warmly, 

Michael B. Maine



Below is the speech as it was written. I didn't read the speech on the stage, but the time and effort I put into writing it helped me know what I wanted to convey. Feel free to read below if you want to catch the few pieces I left out of the oral version.

As this is business school, I thought it only fitting to prepare this speech in an Excel spreadsheet. If you asked me 2 ½ years ago if I’d be studying business in the woods, I would have said absolutely not. Had it not been for one man named Mitsu Yamasaki who asked me one special question, I’m not sure it would have happened. Mitsu asked me what I thought about business as institution. My response to him was that I see business as one of the most pervasive institutions on the earth. Throughout history, the buying, selling, and trading of services have impacted every aspect of our lives. As such, it has the ability to effect change or not effect change in any way we decide to use it. As a tool, it has the potential to do small things, large things, considered things, and unconsidered things.

I came to BGI because my hope and dream was, and remains today, to be immersed within a group of people who think about business a little differently. People who think of business as a means rather than an ends. In this community, I’ve found so much more. In this community I’ve found a group of people who ask what’s possible. From you I’ve learned creativity, trust, and rule number 6. I am grateful for the time shared with such an inspired group of people. Through knowing, observing, and working with each of you, my life has been tremendously enriched. If life is truly about the experiences between life and death, this has been one of the most rewarding pages in my book of life.

I am forever indebted to each of you for how you have touched my life. I just hope that I’ve been able to enrich yours as well. I firmly believe that one of the best ways to learn about and gain an appreciation for any subject matter is to study something seemingly completely unrelated. Perhaps that’s how I came into BGI as a business consultant to leave as a photographer. After being intimate with Excel for two years, I draw a key set of learnings from Aristotle, Plato, and a fallen tree. Aristotle believed that in all things there are four causes (or reasons for why they exist). The first three explained the physical makeup of something and how that changes. The fourth asks the question, what is the larger purpose? What is the fourth cause of business? I can’t say that I know the answer, but I know we’re not afraid to ask the question.

During orientation, at Channel Rock, I was walking along a trail when I came across a fallen tree. On it, I noticed six small trees growing from it. This was the first time this city boy from Dallas had ever seen that. I thought it was beautiful that in its decay, the tree provided the nutrients and foundation for new trees to grow.

So I ask myself, what can I learn by applying this scene of the fallen tree to business? For me, it serves as a metaphor. And I think that’s what makes BGI and all of the people who make it work so special. In a rapidly changing world, in which we must address new challenges, ask new questions, dispel myths, and connect to ancient wisdom, I find it extremely important that we are able to respectfully and gently put those old ideas to rest. For while those ideas and practices may or may not lose validity over time, they are the foundations for which we are able to grow and cultivate new ideas, new thoughts, new myths. And we too will mature, grow old, and die. How are we preparing ourselves and our institutions now to provide the most nutrient rich materials on which the next generation can grow?

Plato thought that there exists, in a spiritual world, an ideal form of everything, a mold that all living things aspire to become. He believed that our unconscious memory of this form allowed us to identify different types, shapes, colors, sizes of horses, people, trees, etc. as a horse, a person, a tree, etc. I think he was partially correct. I think that perfect form exists in each of us already, right here right now. Class of 2013, you are a prime example of how each of you has emerged from a shared experience completely changed, yet completely the same. Congratulations, in each of you perfection already exists.

 

The Trail of Wisdom

The following excerpt from Basso’s Sense of Place was part of an assigned reading for school. When I got to this short story, I really stopped and reflected. What thoughts come to mind when you read it?

The Trail of Wisdom.png

Does Business Need Therapists?

Does Business Need Therapists?

Transient

Organizations can become highly functional or dysfunctional for any number of reasons. When highly functional, organizations are capable of beautiful things, both in what they contribute outside their firm and the atmosphere they create within. When highly dysfunctional they can be extremely toxic to everyone involved.

In both cases the effects extend far beyond the intended "audiences." These effects are not only business-related, but affect society at large. For example when a team works well they may develop a product or service that empowers somebody to do their job better and more effectively, but happier people are also more likely to make better decisions, think more clearly, and be more creative in their solutions. A toxic environment is one in which it becomes much more difficult for people to behave in productive ways. Toxic environments produce situations where there is a lack of trust, people feel as though they must fend for themselves, and a shared mission all but ceases to exist. Which workplace would you prefer the coach of your child’s little league team spend the majority of their waking hours?

In what ways can we create and foster business environments that are suitable for human beings? How can we encourage us to think within organizations about how to look at the way we impact society? We say things like, “think globally, act locally” but what does that really mean when we still throw around terms like “externalities?” We have business coaches, consultants, and trainers. Is it time to seriously consider business therapists?

Post-Mortem Assigment

So, what do I think of the Social Web for Social Change class now that it’s complete? I think that it is a necessary course in a world where were are sharing information faster and easier than ever before—technically. I feel the ability to be able to share your voice and not get lost in the noise is a crucial skill that anyone who wants to be able to influence others must intimately understand. That being said, I think there is some work that must be done in order to transform this course into a “graduate level” class…

Pros:

  1. Introduction to Social Web: Christopher Allen did a great job introducing us to the social web. By taking the mixed media approach to deliver content (videos, books, blog posts, academic articles, interviews, etc.) there was something for everyone. I think the class succeeded in bringing everybody to a basic level of understanding in this area.
  2. Basic Competence: Many people came into the class never having made a video, written a blog, or posted on a social media site. By the end of the class, there was not a single person who couldn’t put together a compelling story, edit it, and have it ready for public consumption within four hours. Not too shabby.
  3. Many found their voice: One of the biggest concerns I kept hearing early on was that people didn’t know what they wanted to say, how to say it, or where to share it. Many were concerned with the types of feedback they would receive. Now there’s a greater understanding that a conversation is just that—a conversation. We must be open to share, receive, and grow.

Possible Improvements:

  1. More critical analysis: Most of class centered around synthesizing the material assigned from homework. Although it was good to see other perspectives, I would have enjoyed spending more time discussing how the material has been applied in the past, how it’s being applied now, and discovering new ways to push the envelope.
  2. How/Why did you do that: I saw a lot of work where I thought to myself, “how did they do that?” and, “why did they do that?” What I mean by this is that I was often impressed by the way somebody decided to deliver a message. Why did they choose that specific medium? What were some of their challenges? How could this be done elsewhere?
  3. Blogging isn’t for everybody: To put it plainly, blogging just isn’t for everybody. Not everybody has a desire to blog. In many cases, blogging may be an inferior way for them to share their knowledge with the rest of the room. I have a friend who struggles to put together 300 word blog posts, but can produce in-depth scholarly works with ease. I would like to see the space made available for other outlets. Although I think blogging is a skill we all need, I don’t think that the amount of blogging required for class is suitable for everyone.

Advice For New Students:

  1. Be fearless: Don’t be ashamed or afraid to discover your voice and be your authentic self. What you have to share is worth sharing. Get over yourself and allow room to experiment, and yes, even fail.
  2. Be open: Not everyone will share the same perspectives, ideas, thoughts, and interests as you. Follow your colleagues blogs and other works to expand your own frame of reference.
  3. Be you