Fixing Your Passion

Last week I kicked off my Failure Competition and interviewed Justin Wetherill in the Exchange. Little did I know when I agreed to Jennifer’s request to interview Justin that the two events would be related.  Let me explain…

Justin is a failed accountant.  He came to the Dixon School because he knew getting an accounting degree would get him a job even in a down economy.  It did.  Problem was he hated the job.  Life in a cubicle just wasn’t for him.  He still needed to eat. So rather than just quit, he and his engineering friend started looking for another path.  There were some dead-ends.  A failed t-shirt company, more precisely a failed idea for a t-shirt company, still makes him laugh.

Then one day Justin broke his new smartphone.  Sending it back to the manufacturer was both expensive and time consuming.  So Justin and his buddy started tinkering with how to fix them. Once they figured that out, the business partners starting buying broken phones on EBay, fixing them and reselling them for a nice profit. The business wasn’t sexy, but it turns out that a lot of people break their electronics (you can ask my stepdaughter Isabella.)  Soon they had a store.  Then two stores.  Then forty stores.  Then they started franchising stores.  uBreakiFix is now an international operation with a big valuation (click here).  Ten years removed from UCF, Justin is doing really well. In fact he is doing way better than really well.

Justin would humbly tell you that you can do this too…that there’s nothing special about it.  You just need to believe in yourself and chart your own course.  Failing to find his passion in accounting took him down a radically different path with a network of friends and family who gave him the support and resources to make his business a success.  In the process he didn’t just fix phones, he fixed his passion.

This story would seriously win the Failure Competition.  So what are you waiting for? Admit that failure, plan that new course, write about that journey and win our failure competition.  Maybe that $500 or letter of recommendation from the Dean will set you on a path where your passion meets your skills and propels you to success.

Admit it, You Failed

Despite what helicopter parents think, everyone fails. It is part of life. Getting comfortable with failure is a key step in becoming a better risk–taker and successful leader. That is why we celebrate failure and persistence in the college. Today, we begin the tenth installment of our Failure Competition. Entering our competition is simple:

Write an account of a failure you have experienced in the past. Your failure story has to focus on a new experience, a time you stepped out of your comfort zone: the farther the better. Tell us why this was such a stretch for you, the failure that resulted and what you learned from the experience that would be of interest to others.

While the Failure Competition began with students in our capstone class, it is now open to any UCF student on campus: undergraduate, graduate or EMBA, business, education, engineering or whatever. The only requirement is that you currently be enrolled at UCF. Two semesters ago, we had a music student win the competition.

Need inspiration or guidance to tell your story? Search my blog. We have posted many stories about failure over the years.
Here are the ground rules, complete with important deadlines:

1. To enter you must post your essay in response to this blog. If you are a capstone student this semester include your section number and name of your instructor. If you are not in this class, tell me your class standing ( e.g., freshman, senior, graduate student) and your field of study. You must complete this exercise by 5 pm on Friday Nov. 4th.
2. Instructors from the Capstone Course will then choose a winner from their section and explain why they chose the essay they did. A panel of College staff will choose no more than five finalists for me to consider from the rest of campus. I need these by 5 pm on Nov. 11th.

3. Those winning entries are then sent to me. I will select three finalists by Nov 14 at 5 pm.

4. The finalists will be asked to submit short videos based on their essays. They must have those videos to me by 5 pm on Nov. 21.

5. I will then feature one video each day on my blog starting Nov. 28th with a vote by everyone reading my blog taking place to determine the winner on Friday Dec. 2nd.

6. The winner will get a letter of recommendation from me along with a $500 prize. Second place will get $300, third place $200. These monies are awarded through our financial aid office.

Good Luck

There Will Be More Hurricane Matthews

Even staying just off the Central Florida shore, Hurricane Matthew disrupted plenty: lives, homes, travel schedules, job interviews, football games and career week in the College to name just a few. Some things can be rescheduled.  Others cannot.  They’re more perishable: schedules don’t match up, priorities change, things are different after the storm.  Life passes the moment by…just ask LSU and Florida.

It’s a good lesson in taking advantage of opportunities at the first-available moment.  You just never know if something unexpected might cause the opportunity to fade. So, when I got a few emails from students upset that they wouldn’t get credit for activities they hoped to complete during Hurricane Matthew’s visit, I wasn’t very sympathetic.   None of these opportunities were required to be done Thursday or Friday.  Attendance in The Exchange for example, is never mandatory.  It’s just one of many things a student can do throughout the semester to show that they are engaged with their own education.

Sure you didn’t see the disruption coming, but I can tell you from experience that it’s the things you don’t expect that get you, not the ones you do. The same is true in business.  In fact, business disruptors hope you don’t see them coming.  It’s part of their plan.  And, like all disruptors they don’t really care about the damage they inflict on you.  Call it bad luck if you’d like, but bad luck is usually just an excuse for a lack of vision or poor execution. The marketplace judges these things very harshly.  And no one ever learned from external attribution.  It may make you feel better to call it bad luck, but it doesn’t cause you to change behavior and improve performance.

The better strategy is to learn from the failure and develop a recovery plan so that the next time the unforeseen happens it doesn’t cause you to crash and burn.  Unfortunately, there will be more Hurricane Matthews.  The question is: Are you prepared to deal with that?

Job Guarantees and Free Shipping

I had a very thought-provoking response to my blog post about free shipping from a student last week. You can read that post and his comment by clicking here. It raised several issues I hear about regularly, so I thought I’d share my response with all of you.

Hello Angel. If you believe people don’t really want education, but instead the job that comes at the end, then free education would be the equivalent of free shipping. People don’t really want shipping. They want the product being shipped. Shipping is just the means to the end. So in your view, I’d want to give away the education and charge you for the job you get as a result of the education. More specifically, I’d want a slice of the boost in pay that comes with your education over the course of your working life. Doable in theory, a collections nightmare to implement in practice.

The Udacity guarantee you reference is fairly narrow in scope and expansive in what it considers employment. As you noted, it’s limited to four programs in high demand fields. It also considers things like free-lancing or being offered a grader job at Udacity as employment. My guess is the company is using the job guarantee as a means of trying to convince their potential customer base that their approach is legit. Nothing wrong with that, but universities occupy a different place in the market.

Despite dissatisfaction among some commentators with the recent post-graduation experiences of some students, the data continues to show that a university degree is a great investment for the typical graduate: it lowers the risk of unemployment and substantially increases life-time earnings over the average person who does not have a degree. So, we don’t have the “proof of concept” problem that new entrants like Udacity do. Our product more than pays for the initial investment of the typical student.

Universities also offer a broader portfolio of programs that appeal to a wider set of students who want different things out of their college experience (not just a job) than operations like Udacity. It would be difficult for any university to offer job guarantees to all their graduates. Not every degree program has a strong connection to a specific job and defining what constitutes an appropriate employment outcome across a broad set of degree programs would be tough.

This doesn’t mean we don’t care about the post-graduation experiences of our students. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I care. We have professional development courses, career coaches, and innovative offerings like the Integrative Business Program to help transition you to a good job. Our data shows that about 70 percent of our graduating seniors report they either have a job or are heading to graduate school when they fill out The First Destination Survey. This is done before they graduate, not six months out.

That said, I’m still not satisfied. I want this number to be much higher and have toyed with a different idea: If you are graduating and have yet to find your next challenge, the college would allow you take up to three extra undergraduate courses in the next semester after you graduate for free. There are a few details we would need to work out and it would probably take an act of the Florida legislature to allow us to do this, but like the Udacity plan, it would underscore our commitment to your success. Unlike the Udacity plan, it would also require the student to continue to show their commitment to their future by completing the additional coursework. It’s not free-shipping or an employment guarantee, but it just might be the opportunity some of our students need to  fully realize their dreams.

Taking Failure to the Next Level

I spent most of the week at the Rutgers Business School attending a conference on the future of graduate business education.  Usually I consider attending a conference a “win” if I leave feeling affirmed about what we are doing along with one good idea I can steal.  I left this conference feeling affirmed with three good ideas I could steal.  No doubt my team will be thrilled with today’s “to do” list.

No doubt the most affirming moment came when a corporate executive said: “Every student needs a course in failure.  It should include how to recover from mistakes, especially how to fire people.”  I had just been explaining our failure competition to a few deans who wanted to steal the concept. (Imitation really is the highest form of flattery.). We looked at each other and smiled.

And so, I’m issuing an RFP to anyone on our faculty interested in developing an undergraduate or graduate course on failure.  I’ll provide some summer support for the winning concept — a two page concept paper is all I’m looking for.  The goal would be to offer the course in the Fall of 2017 and if it goes well, to try to include it in the core for Fall 2018… Either at graduate or undergraduate level, whichever is the most appropriate.

So whose willing to help us take failure to the next level?   

Free Shipping

People love free shipping. Some see it as the reason to buy more.  Others see it as added value for the same price.  My guess is, if you’re not offering some form of free shipping and you’re in retail it is increasingly hard to stay in the game.

With all the changes going on in higher education, I have often wondered aloud about what could be our version of free shipping… Added value for a face-to-face educational experience at the same price.  I got a few ideas (the Exchange being one) but would like to hear from all of you.  So send me your ideas. Who knows, you just might change higher education in the process.

The Real Victory

This weekend we partnered with the UCF Alumni Association to host a tailgate for 350 fans before the Michigan game.  Both Julie Stroh and I are Michigan alums.  Dr. Hitt was pleased to see us both sporting black and gold.  When I spoke to the crowd, I used my time to put the game in perspective…

When I walked into the Big House in 1977, Michigan was ranked No. 2 in the country and had more wins than any other program in college football history. FTU didn’t have a football team. Today we share the field, and this huge accomplishment couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and support of the people here today.

The institution across the street taught me the importance of greatness. Everyone in the stands today and all the players wearing winged helmets understand that being good, or pretty good, isn’t good enough. The weakness of the institution is reflected in one of my favorite T-shirts you will see around campus. It reads: Maize–A more arrogant shade of yellow.

I don’t know who will win today but I do know two things: UCF’s best days are ahead of it, not behind it. And the real victory, the real victory will come when the dean of the business school at Michigan is a UCF alum. 

I don’t have to tell you that the final score wasn’t pretty. But progress at universities is measured in decades, not football weekends.  And while it is fun to watch our teams compete on the field, the real measure of our success comes from preparing our students to know they can compete with anyone, anywhere (in the classroom, on the field and in shaping the future) and that greatness is always the expectation. Go Knights.

Street Smarts For Faculty

This past week the Ambassadors held sessions in the Exchange designed to help familiarize new students with life in the college, teach them how to connect with faculty and staff and give them tips on how to thrive in the classroom.  We call it “street smarts” and the basic idea is to teach students how to communicate with us by effectively communicating with them in language they understand… the language of fellow students. 

This generational challenge extends to the classroom too where we regularly start out communicating with students in language they understand in the hopes of getting them proficient in the languages we understand… The languages of academia and business.  Effectuating this type of transformation requires professors to use examples that are relevant to their student audience… Things that connect with students’ experiences and they can relate to so they understand the faculty’s perspective.  Conversely, nothing kills learning like a dated example. It makes the professor seem out of date and out of touch. Yawns follow.  Listening stops.

I rediscovered an old resource this week that helped me make sure I was relevant in the classroom.  It’s called the Beloit College Mindset List and you can access it by clicking here.  It reminds us of the things we think are current events or trends that Freshmen students never experienced or see as old hat.  The list is insight into student mindsets.  Items 3 and 10 on this year’s list make me feel sad for them.  Item 49 makes me feel really old.  The list comes out every year and takes five minutes to read, but like a month to process (lol).   Well worth the time. Think of it as street smarts for faculty.

What the Internet Kills

Friday after “Welcome To The Majors,” our guest speaker Robert Stephens did an Exchange with me at a lunch in front of about 100 business and community leaders.  Given Robert’s background with Geek Squad and Best Buy, I asked him about the future of bricks and mortar retail.  His response: “Amazon and the Internet will kill mediocre retail.  Great bricks and mortar retail will do just fine because people want a shopping experience, especially when they don’t know exactly what they want.  The Internet is for people who know exactly what they want. (I am paraphrasing here a bit.)

I then asked him if there was a lesson in this for higher education as well.   He nodded and responded that the Internet will kill mediocre education too.  Robert noted that when he went to the University of Minnesota, he wanted to be taught by that crazy haired old guy wearing a tweed jacket whose provocative ideas made you think.  Instead he got a graduate student in a class of 400 who had trouble communicating with his audience.  Robert dropped out.

He pursued Geek Squad instead, ironically on the advice of one of his professors who told him that the university wasn’t going anywhere and that he could always come back if things didn’t work out.  That professor now works at UCF.  His name is Dr. Peter Hancock.   They had coffee together before the event and Peter was in the audience during Welcome To The Majors. Small World.

Even in what was a disappointing experience for Robert overall, a bond between a student and faculty member stuck.  I couldn’t help but wonder what course Robert’s life might have taken if he had met more Peter Hancocks while in school. But,  I didn’t wonder at all about what’s going to happen to higher education if it doesn’t figure out how to give more students more opportunities to build relationships like Robert and Peter’s.   That Internet really is a killer…


I want UCF students to get a great education.  This is not just about whether they have a solid grasp of statistics, finance, marketing or management.  Understanding these topics gets you a good education, not a great one.  A great education requires things that transcend a specific course or major.

First there must be some “aha moments”: eye-opening interactions that expand your horizons; presenting you with new possibilities, challenges, and perspectives on the world. Aha moments come from interacting with accomplished faculty, dedicated staff and engaged students who challenge your values and world view while raising your aspirations.

Second, a great education helps students make good choices about their careers and life.  It allows students to realistically preview different paths, better understand their interests, strengths, and weaknesses, and helps them develop a realistic plan to achieve their goals.  This requires students to get out of their comfort zones, experiment, build relationships with people who are different than themselves and risk failure so that they can succeed.

Finally, a great education gives students the confidence, knowledge and skills to compete with anyone, anywhere, no matter what the competition’s pedigree.  This comes from being in a competitive environment that helps students improve their performance through sustained effort combined with strong developmental feedback.

If you got these three things, you got a great education.  And a tell-tale sign that someone got a great education is what baseball coaches call swagger.  They look for it when players step up to the plate.  It is a critical quality in a game where you fail (get out) way more frequently than you succeed (get a hit).  Ricky Henderson, perhaps the greatest lead-off hitter of all time was famous for repeating under his breath: “You are the greatest Rickey” every time he stepped into the batter’s box.  If he struck out, he could be heard saying on his way back to the dugout: “You’re still the greatest Rickey.”  Rickey had swagger and people wanted him on their team.

Knights need swagger too. Be prepared: I am going to be looking to instill some swagger in all of you.