Skip to main content

"All Things Shall Work Together for Your Good"

Brothers and Sisters-
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak to you today. I want to thank President Wheelwright for this invitation. Brother and Sister Wheelwright have been friends of mine for more than 35 years. I admire them both very much. I first met them when I went to Harvard University in 1974 to attend graduate school. I remember being invited to their home one evening. Margaret and Steve were both so friendly, so welcoming, so encouraging. President Wheelwright was a professor at Harvard Business School at the time. Later, after I completed my Ph.D. we would become colleagues there, and during one semester, I was privileged to be a part of the same teaching group with him for the course, Production and Operations Management. You probably know that President Wheelwright is a world-famous professor of management. He is also an excellent teacher. Whenever I could, I would attend his class, and then go and teach mine. I have learned many life lessons from President and Sister Wheelwright.

And so have my sons. My son, Elliot, was in President Wheelwright's Boy Scout troop. As scoutmaster, he helped Elliot achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. Years later, when I was looking to get married for a second time, I met a wonderful woman, who is on the stand with me today: my wife, Kathy. After we had dated and decided to become engaged, Kathy wrote her son, Elder Andrew Cannon, who was serving a mission in England to let him know the news. She suggested that Andrew might want to talk with his mission president and mission Mother about this new person in her life. Can you guess who Elder Cannon's mission president was? Yes, you are right. It was President Wheelwright! As grateful as I am for the kind introduction President Wheelwright gave me today, I am even more grateful for the encouraging words that both he and Sister Wheelwright provided to my stepson, Andrew. That was probably the most important recommendation I have ever had!

I am now in my fifth year as dean of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. One of the delights of being on a college campus is the opportunity to welcome back to campus alumni and friends who have gone on to have success in their careers. We often ask them to reflect on "lessons learned"  throughout their careers and to share those with our students. What would you like to have known, we ask them, as an undergraduate that you now know today?
We have heard some wonderful advice over the years. I thought perhaps the best way I could serve you today would be to ask that question of myself: What would I like to have known as an undergraduate that I now know today?

I would like to share five such lessons, in the hope that it might prove useful to you. Here they are:

  1. Stay positive;
  2. Own your own education;
  3. Stay open to learning and to possibility;
  4. Discover the spiritual connection in your work;
  5. Choose to live a life of greatness.

The first lesson is to stay positive!

It's easy to give in to discouragement. The newspapers are full of depressing stories: recession, unemployment, deficits, escalating health care costs, financial meltdowns, crime, terrorism, climate change, natural disasters. There's a lot of bad stuff happening in the world. Yet, we know that to a person of faith these things give experience and can be turned for our good. (D&C 122:7)
This, of course, is not how the world sees things. (See reality as it is, Jacob 4:13). I remember one day while I was teaching at Harvard Business School, I went to the faculty club for lunch. In the lobby were two of my colleagues, one a Jew and the other a Catholic. It was clear they had been intensely engaged in conversation. Upon seeing me they insisted I join their conversation.

"Tell us, Doug,"  my Jewish friend insisted, "Does God bless the righteous and punish the wicked?" 

It's a question worth thinking deeply about, and as I have read the Old Testament this year along with you and the rest of the Church, I have often pondered that question. The answer is, "of course he does,"  although perhaps it's more accurate to say that God blesses the righteous, while the wicked punish themselves and each other. (See Mormon 4:5 But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished... .)
And yet, this is not always apparent. One of the great themes that runs throughout the Old Testament concerns God's dealings with his chosen people, and their struggle with the principle of obedience to God's laws and commandments. Over and over again the question is raised, "why do the wicked prosper, while the righteous suffer?"  God's chosen people observe the wicked living lives of plenty and ease while the righteous endure hardships. How can that be? Tempted, the people of God wander, fall away, and serve false Gods. I love the reassurance that the prophets: ancient and modern: give of God's power to turn tribulation into triumph. One of my favorite scriptures is D&C 90:24: "Search diligently, pray always and be believing and  all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted, one with another." 

None of us gets through this life without being tested. By the time you are my age each of you will likely have had a serious encounter with at least one of more of the following: death, disease, divorce, or the dentist! Bad things do happen to good people. Yet because of the power of God, and the assurance that we have of his constant companionship, we know that sorrow will turn to joy, heartbreak to healing, tribulation to triumph, as long as we remember our promises to him.
I thought of that recently when I saw Elizabeth Smart on the courthouse steps of Salt Lake City. The whole world knows her story, of how she was kidnapped from her home at age 14 at knifepoint, held hostage and brutally abused daily for nine long months until she was finally recognized and rescued. Yet, consider her remarkable return to health both physically and emotionally. It is a miraculous story. I am in awe of her courage and the dedication and love of her parents, family, and religious leaders, who helped Elizabeth on her journey. Today she is a missionary for our church in France. She is a beautiful, vibrant, healthy young woman with a great future ahead of her. These are the fruits of the Gospel of Christ.

Here's what she said, eight years after her abduction, on the day that her assailant was found guilty of all charges: "I hope that not only is this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened."  (Deseret News, December 27, 2010)

She might well have quoted

Psalms 37:
28 For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: ... the transgressors shall be destroyed ... 
39 The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
40 And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them; he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.

Few of us will ever endure the horror that Elizabeth Smart experienced. All of us can gain strength and inspiration from her example. So the first lesson is this: Stay positive. Be optimistic. Trust in the Lord. Things will work out.

The second lesson is that you must "own your own education." 

What do I mean by that? Perhaps I can best explain it with a story. It begins with the place I was born: Logan, Utah where Utah State University is located. It lies in a beautiful mountain valley in the Rocky Mountains called Cache Valley. Cache is spelled "Cache."  It's a French word, meaning the place where you store valuables. The early Mountain men called it "Cache Valley"  because that's where they would store or hide their beaver pelts until they were ready to take them back East to market in St. Louis. The mountain men liked to gather to hold their annual rendezvous in Cache Valley. In 1824 Jim Bridger, the great mountain man, is said to have stored a fortune in beaver pelts worth $100,000: in 1824 dollars: one winter in Cache Valley. He also called Cache Valley the "most beautiful valley in the Rocky Mountains"  and I think he was right.

When I was born in Cache Valley, I was the fifth generation of my family: on both my mother's side and my father's side of the family: to live in Cache Valley. My great, great grandparents were some of the first pioneers to live in the valley. My father grew up in Logan and my mother grew up on a dairy farm in the middle of the valley in a place called Benson Ward. They met at Utah State and married in 1948, the year that they graduated. A little over a year later, I was born. Before I entered kindergarten my parents moved to Southern California. I was educated in the public school system of Pasadena, graduating from John Muir High School in 1968. The next year I went to Stanford University for my freshman year of college and then served a two-year mission for the church in Germany.

The year I graduated from high school, my parents moved the family back "home"  to Logan. When I finished my mission, I have to admit I was broke and homesick, so I thought "why not live at home for a year, and go to Utah State University?"  It would be a way to save some money and get reacquainted with my two younger brothers and two younger sisters, whom I had not really seen for essentially three years. I fully intended to return to Stanford for my final two years of college.

It was a great decision. I loved going to college in Logan. It is a great college town. I made some wonderful friends and really enjoyed my professors. I got involved in campus activities, ended up serving as the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, and had a wonderful opportunity to spend a summer working for a United States Senator in Washington, D. C. It wasn't long before I decided that I would stay and graduate from USU.

But there was something that really bothered me. Whenever I met someone new, they would ask "why on earth did you transfer from Stanford to Utah State" : like you would have to be practically brain-damaged to make such a decision. I really did not like the implied subtext of that question, and so I developed the following answer: "I transferred to get a better education. Why else would you transfer from Stanford to Utah State?"  That usually stopped any further inquiry on the subject. But you know, after responding that way several times, I realized that not only was that a good way to redirect a conversation, it actually had to be the real answer to the question. Yet, if it were to become real, it would be up to me to make sure that it was true. In other words, it would not be true unless I took over ownership of my own education. Education is not something that is done to us, or that we buy off the shelf. It is something we co-create. When you own your own education, you are participating in the process of creating knowledge.

Let me illustrate this point by reference to a talk given this year by one of our alumni, Dave Finnegan, the chief information officer at Build-a-Bear in St. Louis. How many of you have heard of Build-a-Bear? Dave joined the company out of Utah State University in 1999, when they had just 7 stores. Now they have over 400 and they are growing rapidly. The concept behind Build a Bear is that instead of simply buying a teddy bear off the shelf at Wal-Mart, kids actually come into the store and customize it: they build it the way they want it to be. Dave says that when kids get involved in that kind of experience "magic"  happens. And that's what happens when you own your own education.

The third lesson is to "stay open to learning and possibility." 

One of the greatest management thinkers of the last one hundred years was Peter Drucker. Drucker made this observation about careers:

"Successful car eers are not planned.  They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person-- hard-working and competent but otherwise mediocre-- into an  outstanding performer." (Managing Oneself HBR, 1999)

I am struck by what Drucker says here because it conforms to my own experience. In my case, my career has not been so much planned as it has unfolded. Along the way I have discovered my own answers to Drucker's questions. I have learned, among other things, that I am not equally effective in each of the roles I have experimented with. And I have learned that I am able to make the greatest contribution where there is the best fit among personal strengths, values, and a sense of belonging.

I want to tell you two personal stories to illustrate this process of discovery. The first goes all the way back to the fall of 1974, when I entered graduate school at Harvard. I was full of hope and ambition and energy and dreams, just as you are today. I was married, and already the father of a six-month-old daughter.

I had studied economics and political science as an undergraduate at Utah State University, had completed a master's in economics there, and still wanted more. But unlike most of those who seek the Ph.D., I had no desire for a career in academic research and teaching, or at least I didn't think I did. Consequently, I really did not know what I was going to do when I finished graduate school.

Sometime during my last year at Utah State, I was invited to appear as a panelist on a television program broadcast by KUED, Channel 7, in Salt Lake City. The theme of the program was "University Governance," and I was the token student member of the panel, having served as the editor of my college newspaper. Can you imagine an entire program being devoted to that topic-- university governance? One thing I can say with confidence: the programming on KUED has improved dramatically in the last thirty-seven years!

Well, anyway, we had an interesting, and (other than myself), a distinguished panel. The discussants included the provost of the University of Utah, the chairman of the state Board of Regents, and the state senator most responsible for funding higher education. A story the state senator told about growing up on an arid farm in southern Utah, and building a dam for irrigation, is the only thing I can remember about the panel's discussion.

He told of how his father would wake him up early in the morning, before it was light, to go outside to hitch up the horses. He would then drive the team out to work on the dam that they were building, so that they could have water to irrigate the alfalfa. Of course they were growing the alfalfa, so that they would have hay to feed the horses! This was a cycle that as a young farm boy he could not understand. He wondered why not just shoot the horses and sleep in!

I think this anecdote left such an impression on me because at the time I heard it I was struggling with a similar cycle that left me just as puzzled: the struggle to decide which graduate education to pursue and what career path to follow. For although I was excited to pursue Ph.D. studies, I could not connect that study to a career I was interested in. I could not understand why anyone would study hard to get good grades to get into graduate school, if the only purpose was to then study hard to get good grades to get a teaching position somewhere. Where, of course, one would then force some other poor soul to study hard to get good grades to get into graduate school! Like the state senator and the horses, I wondered why not just burn the books and sleep in! 
The answer to that riddle came about by accident. Two years into my graduate study at Harvard, I was working as a janitor to help support my family. One day I had a conversation with a classmate, Kim Clark, who is now president of BYU-Idaho. We discussed the work we were doing to make ends meet. Like me, Kim was supporting a wife and a young child. He told me that he had a job as a teaching fellow in the economics department, and that he taught the first year course in economics to Harvard College undergraduates. "Do they pay you for that?" I asked. "Sure," he said. In fact, it paid better than my janitor's job. So I asked him if he thought the economics department might use another teaching fellow. Kim graciously agreed to arrange an interview for me with the head teaching fellow, and I was given the job.

I will always be grateful to Kim for that kindness. In addition to improving our family's standard of living, that job opened the door to my career. I discovered the joy of teaching, and that teaching was the best way for me to learn. In fact, I found out that I could learn more about economics by teaching Harvard College undergraduates than I did from sitting in the lectures of my Nobel Prize-winning professors of economic theory. I became passionate about teaching because it enabled me to learn, and I was passionate about learning. I wasn't that good at it at first. But because I enjoyed teaching economics, I got better at it.

This insight: that I could learn most effectively by teaching others, and that I could become good at it because I enjoyed it: was an accident. I made this discovery in the process of simply trying to find a better way to support my family.

The second story has to do with an experience I had after I finished graduate school and was working as a full-time member of the Harvard Business School faculty. There I learned how to teach by the case method. And I also learned about a market for corporate executive education that I had no idea existed. I remember sitting in my office at Harvard one afternoon and receiving a phone call from a senior professor by the name of Jay Lorsch.
"Doug," Jay said. "I am calling you because of an emergency. "We're teaching a group of executives out in Cincinnati tomorrow, and the fellow who was supposed to do it has become terribly sick with food poisoning. I wonder if you can help out."
"Jay," I said. "I'd be happy to help out if I can. What's the case?" [I knew there had to be a case.] 
"You'll be teaching a case on competition in the jet engine business."
"And who are the executives?" 
"They are all middle managers at General Electric's jet engine business in Evendale, Ohio."
"Wait a minute, Jay," I said. "You want me to teach a case about the jet engine business, about which I know nothing, to a bunch of people who are experts in the business?"
"That's right," he said.
"When do I get the case?" I asked.
"We can bring it right over. You can prepare it on the plane tonight when you fly out there."
Well, I did it. And it went really well. That teaching experience really taught me how powerful the case method was. It was like walking a tight rope without a net, but what a great learning experience it was!

I learned how to perform in that very unique marketplace: a marketplace that only a couple of years before I had no idea even existed. I learned that as a teacher I did not have to have all the answers. In fact, I was more effective if I didn't. My role was to be the concept leader, and to ask the questions. I discovered the power of questions, and learned that I could help people get better answers by helping them ask better questions.

This discovery opened up another new door of opportunity for me. A few years later some other Harvard professors and I decided we enjoyed this type of teaching so much we would try to make a business out of it. In 1987 we co-founded the Center for Executive Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dedicated to helping companies build strategic capability through customized executive education. The 20 years that I spent as managing partner for CED provided deeply rewarding work for me and my partners, and I think for our clients as well. And I discovered it by accident! So this lesson is: Stay open to learning and to possibilities. Don't be too discouraged if you don't know at this point what your life's work will be. Perhaps it hasn't even been invented yet!

The fourth lesson: Discover the spiritual connection in your work

The inspiration for this lesson comes from a small book I came across more than ten years ago by a Jewish rabbi, Jeffrey K. Salkin, called  Being God's Partner: How to Find the Hidden Link between Spirituality and Your Work. Rabbi Salkin told a story of a move that his family made from Pennsylvania to New York, where he was to become responsible for a new congregation. As he tells the story, the boss of the moving crew was a dead ringer for Willie Nelson. He also noticed as the day went on that this fellow was extraordinarily cheerful and careful with his family's possessions. Curious about the man's motivation, Rabbi Salkin sought the opportunity to engage the moving boss in conversation. Why did this person seem so happy about work that many would consider mundane? His explanation went something like this: "I am a Christian,"  the man said. "My purpose in life is to serve others. I love my work because I know that I am helping people at a time when they feel especially vulnerable. I cherish the opportunity to take some burden off their shoulders at a time when they might otherwise feel anxious and stressed."  
I love that little story, and I try to remember it in my daily activities. I believe the world is in the process of discovering how powerful it is when we can find the spiritual connection in our daily work and professional activities. Many of the finest leaders I know are seeking meaning in what they do, beyond the paycheck. It unlocks all kinds of energy and creativity. Readers of the  Book of Mormon know that it is in serving others that we find this spiritual connection. For it was King Benjamin, who said, "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God."  (Mosiah 2:17).

Fifth: Choose to live a life of greatness

My colleague, Stephen R. Covey, the Jon M. Huntsman Professor of Leadership at Utah State University, says this: "Deep within each of us there is an inner longing to live a life of  greatness and contribution: to really matter, to really make a difference."  (8th Habit, p. 28).
He goes on to say that your unique contribution "lies at the nexus of  talent (your natural gifts and strengths),  passion (those things that really energize, excite, motivate and inspire you),  need (including what the world needs enough to pay you for), and  conscience (that still, small voice within that assures you of what is right and that prompts you to actually do it). ( 8th Habit Pp.84-85.)

At the Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, our purpose is to be a career accelerator for our students and an engine of growth for our community, the State, the nation, and the world. We are committed to helping our students discover and develop their unique talents and match them with the world's great need, so that they are prepared to make a great contribution. Our motto is taken from President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, "Dare Mighty Things." 
"In the battle of life,"  said President Roosevelt, "it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood... . Far better is it to Dare Mighty Things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." 

I would like to close with this quote from Winston Churchill: "To every man [and I would say, woman],"  he said, "there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared, or unqualified, for the work which would be his finest hour." 

Don't let that happen to you. Choose to live a life of greatness. Discover the spiritual connection in your work. Stay open to learning and to possibility. Own your own education. And, stay positive! May the Lord bless you as you search diligently, pray always, trust in his power and promises, and remember who you are and whom you represent. I offer these thoughts in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.