2017 Harvard GSD Class Day Address: Katherine Farley (MArch ’76)

[applause] I’m so pleased to welcome our
Class Day speaker Katherine Farley, who would now be
introduced by Corey Zehngebot. Corey is a 2009 alumna of the
Master of Architecture Program. She’s now a senior urban
designer and architect for the Boston Planning
and Development Agency and a member of
our alumni council. Please welcome Corey. [applause] Thank you, Moshen. I’m here today to
quickly do three things– introduce Katherine Farley,
your Class Day speaker, welcome you to the
GSD alumni community, and, lastly, congratulate
you and your parents. I’m going to do that
in reverse order. So first, congratulations. This is one of many
congratulations you’ve already received
and will receive, but my congratulations is
on behalf of the GSD alumni council, the representative body
of our alumni community, which consists of 12,500 GSD
alums across the world. They could not be here
today, so on their behalf, I wish to say,
welcome to the club. However, I’m going
to guess that you, like I did when
I was graduating, have spent approximately
zero time thinking about what that might mean. The good news is that
the Alumni Council has been thinking about you. In fact, we have thought of
you as alumni in training from the moment
you matriculated. I know it’s hard to imagine
right now, as some of you probably can’t wait
to get out of Gund, but we do hope that you continue
to be engaged in the school. The alumni council is one
avenue for engagement, but there are countless others. The council, for those
who may not be familiar, is made up of about
50 alumni from all the different programs,
decades, and geographies across the world that meet twice
yearly in our ongoing quest to serve as ambassadors
for the school and for you. We also try to connect through
public programs and activities like portfolio reviews,
professional programs, and receptions– but also
professional conferences and alumni events
around the world. I hope you’ll remain
connected with the GSD if you live in the
area or beyond. In my time as a
member of the council, I’ve had the opportunity
to deepen my engagement with the school and learn about
the programs and activities that you and your fellow
students are working on. This year alone, you’ve
organized conferences here at the GSD and with students
from HBS and the college. You mobilize to march
in Washington, DC, you fought for the presence
of all gender restrooms, and created an overall
supportive community for your fellow GSD students. I’m being truly
sincere when I say you are an inspiration to
us and the Alumni Council. I was very fortunate
to recently meet with a group of women
and design students who came to City Hall
several weeks ago to meet with GSD alumni who
are working in government. That’s just one
model, but I hope that you continue to reach out. Now for a bit of housekeeping. One for the key ways
you can remain connected is to maintain a current
profile on the Harvard alumni directory. Some of you may already be
familiar with this as a way to connect with
alums, but you should continue to use
this as a resource to reach out to your
fellow GSD alumni, the larger Harvard alumni
community, and current students who may be seeking your
advice in the near future. The Alumni Relations
Office has a gift for you– is that a jump drive? Yes, it’s a jump drive that
includes information on ways to remain connected and what
resources you will have access to as alumni. These will be available for
you in the lobby following our speaker today
and also tomorrow following the degrees ceremony. Tomorrow you’ll
become GSD alumni, but you’ll also will be part
of a larger Harvard Alumni Association, HAA, that
represents over 350,000 Harvard alumni worldwide. I hope you have a chance
to experience the afternoon program tomorrow when Henry Cobb
receives the Harvard Medal– the highest honor to a member
of the Harvard alumni community. Henry will be the
first living GSD alum to receive this award presented
by President Drew Faust. It’s also important to
mention that during my time in the Alumni
Council, I’ve learned the importance of giving
back to support the school, not just with my
time, but in support of the commitment for financial
aid that so many of you receive. This is something we
commit to as Harvard alumni council members and try
to model as a behavior for our fellow alumni to support
in future generations of design leaders like you. I am honored to be
here to welcome you to the community of GSD alumni. We hope you continue
your design leadership and whatever career you pursue. And on that note, I am delighted
to present Katherine Farley, Masters of Architecture,
Class of 1976, who has shown tremendous
design leadership throughout her long and
successful career at Tishman Speyer. Though she recently retired as
senior managing director where she was responsible for
the Brazil and China businesses and global
corporate marketing after a 32-year
career at the company, she is still quite
busy, it sounds like, as chairman of the Lincoln
Center for Performing Arts. She has been involved
at Lincoln Center since 1999, having served on the
New York Philharmonic Orchestra board from 1999 to 2005 and
on the Lincoln Center Theater board from 2002 to 2005. She was chairman of the
Lincoln Center redevelopment project from 2006 to
2010, a $1.2 billion comprehensive renovation
of the campus. I’m sure her GSD degree served
her very well in that capacity. She’s also served on
numerous boards including the International
Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization that
focuses on emergency relief and resettlement of refugees,
Board of Trustees for Brown University, the Alvin Ailey
American Dance Theater, and the board of the Lang Lang
International Music Foundation from 2012 to 2016. I’m very honored to
introduce your 2017 Class Day speaker Katherine Farley. [applause] Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I am so glad to be
back at the GSD today, and I’m honored to be here
on this momentous occasion. I graduated from the
GSD 41 years ago. Hand calculators, as they
were called at the time, were about this big, and they
weighed about three pounds, and you are not allowed
to use them on exams. That was considered cheating. Slide rules only. We also drew– all the time– only. We drew on slope drafting
boards, yellow trays, pencils, markers, and rapidograph pens
for special presentations. Yeah I know, it sounds like
Jurassic Park doesn’t it? In so many ways, that
was a different world. And yet, the mission you are
on today, as you graduate, is the same. It’s at least as important
now as it was then. Creating excellence in
design, the built environment, and the arts for this
complex, contemporary world has perhaps never been more
challenging or more important. It’s a grand and an essential
mission, and your role in it will be a vital one. Simply put, we need you. As you mark this great occasion
and embark upon your careers, I’d like to speak with you
about two things I think have not changed since my day. First, the importance of
framing the right question. I believe the GSD
has prepared you for a much broader role
in the working world than you might imagine
as you sit here today. Applying the open-ended,
creative thinking that you learned at the
GSD to your own talents and to your careers will
expand your opportunities and increase the likelihood
of your success and happiness. I’d like to talk to
you today about how it helped me find
my way, about goals, about the role of
failure, risk, and luck. I’ll share with you a couple of
battle scars from my early days as I struggled, as
I made mistakes, as I zigged and
zagged, ultimately finding a full measure
of purpose and pleasure in my life– but not right away. Secondly, I’d like to
talk today about how to deliver the punch– impact. I’d like to share with you a few
things I learned in my journey about how to leverage all of
the talent and effort you will invest in your
careers so that you can have the maximum impact on
the issues that you care about. Let’s start by
talking about you– how you think about yourself,
how you frame the right question for you. It may not have
occurred to you yet, but whatever your background
was before coming to the GSD, you are now poised to become
the leaders of this generation. You have the best education
available on the planet. You’re trained in non-linear
thinking– that special way of addressing problems where
you hold multiple hypotheses in your mind while you
extrapolate and iterate– generating additional
option options. You know how to solve the visual
and intellectual equivalent of a multivariable equation. You’re familiar with the
kind of creative thinking that is essential to solving
the complex challenges we face today. Your education
here at the GSD has qualified you to do big things
in the world of architecture, urban planning, landscape,
and design, yes– but also in lots of other
professional spheres. You are the leaders
who will shape this generation’s
environment, policy, business, and government. It is a fearsome responsibility. I realize that the thought
of being a global leader, as you sit here today,
may seem immodest or maybe just preposterous. But someone in your generation
will be a global leader, so why not you? In case no one has
told you yet, you can and you will do
something important. Let me be the voice to
tell you that if you haven’t heard it before. You’re well prepared for it. I know it. The important thing
is that you know it. To quote Henry Ford, whether
you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. With this excellent
education under your belt and armed with the confidence
that you will succeed, it’s more important than ever
to have the right goals, right? Wrong. All the parents in the audience
won’t want me to say this, but it is just not
possible for someone, as you sit here today, to know
exactly what your ambition is or what your strategy
should be for getting there. You just don’t have
enough information. Understanding the context
of our own moment in history has always been difficult.
Recognizing trends around us and seeing the patterns
that will form the future has never been simple. We are living now in a
particularly turbulent time. But it is clear that there
are many opportunities for you to do important work. The environment’s
increasingly under siege. Urban development is
occurring around the world at an enormous speed– sometimes with great
thought and, sometimes, with just speed. Space use is changing. Think of, we work, we live. Think of hotelling
or capsule hotels. Space needs are changing. Think of the growing
needs for senior housing– for aging baby boomers. Think of the 65 million
displaced refugees in the refugee crisis today. There’s no shortage of work. You are more likely
than you expect, as you sit here today, to have a
significant impact on the world in your next 40 years. It’s up to you just what
that impact will be. The biggest question
facing you now is how you spend your time,
your talent, and your education. It is easy to be intimidated by
the enormity of that question. It may help to think in terms
of gradual approximations as you adjust over time and
you get new information. Think of tacking towards
a generalized North Star– not trying to sail
directly there, but approaching it in
shorter increments. Think of adjusting
to changing winds, abandoning directions
that don’t seem useful, aiming at getting closer and
closer to finding something you love that achieves
something meaningful. The shortest distance
between two points, if it’s careers we’re talking
about, is not a straight line. Personally, I did a
whole lot of tacking and I risked capsizing a
lot before I finally hit a career that worked for me. When I was accepted at the
GSD, there was a catch. I had to pass an
intensive six-week physics course in the summer. I was undaunted
because I’d always been a pretty good student. But when I arrived and I noticed
that the class was mostly all premeds, and they all
had slide rules sticking out of their pockets, I started
to get a little worried. Then they told us that
there was not a textbook, and the lectures had been
prerecorded on cassettes. But in order to have the
right to buy the cassettes, you had to first pass
a test in trigonometry and a test in calculus. Now I was really worried. I had majored in studio
art and literature. I had never studied either
trigonometry or calculus. But soldiering on, I
bought a textbook in each, and I spent the
weekend reading them as I would read a novel
hoping that my liberal arts skills would pull me through. The way the course
worked, each student would take a test
in their seat, walk to the front of the auditorium,
get an answer sheet, score their own test, and
then report their score to the proctor. I saw the premed students
knocking off the tests right away, going down to the
front, take the cassettes, they were ready
to rock and roll. The class was held in the newly
built Science Center auditorium designed by Jose Luis Sert. And the impeccable acoustics
had been much praised. So I took my test to
the front, I compared it to the answer sheet,
and I whispered quietly to the proctor, I think you
gave me the wrong answer sheet because you
can see there is no correlation between my
answers and the answer sheet. Suddenly, behind me,
the entire auditorium was chuckling, and then
hooting, and laughing. And I realized that the perfect
acoustics of that auditorium made it possible for every
premed to understand my abject humiliation at that moment. I finally understood–
this was going to be hard. I had already established
myself before day one as the caboose in the class. I’d quit my job, I borrowed
money to go to Harvard. And if I couldn’t pass this
class, I was out of luck. I sweated all summer,
and only because of substantial remedial
coaching by my older brother, who was a physics
PhD, was I finally able to get the cassettes
halfway through the summer. I never got such a bad
grade in any course, and I never was so
proud to earn it. I passed. The reason I am
humiliating myself by telling you this
story is to point out that sometimes
failures along the way, even though they
are excruciating, don’t really matter. Do the best you can. Expect them. Move on. Don’t think of it as failing,
think of it as tacking forward. I took a big financial
risk to come to the GSD, and I’m guessing
some of you did, too. I was hoping I’d make
it as an architect, but when I left the GSD,
the architecture market was terrible. And I took a job working at
Turner Construction Company because they would
pay me $2000 a year more, which made the
difference in my ability to pay back my student loans. It felt like a major setback. In those days, a so-called
nontraditional job was considered a failure. And worse than that, I hated it. I thought I’d made a mistake
I could never recover from– going into debt
I couldn’t afford to get a degree I
wasn’t even using. Then a surprising
opportunity came up. The Chinese government
asked the company to join a consortium to compete
for a huge mixed-use complex in Beijing. The odds of winning
seemed very low, and the proposal had to be made
in person over Thanksgiving, so no one senior in the
company wanted to go. I volunteered. I had never been anywhere. This all happened in
1979 just as relations between the United States and
China were being normalized. And this provided
a historic context that was key to our success. I spent three weeks in Beijing
negotiating around the clock with this consortium,
translating every word in both directions
through an interpreter. To everyone’s surprise,
at the end of three weeks, we made a deal. We had a huge
project in Beijing. Then back at Turner, corporate
life being what it is, I was a China expert. [audience laugher] I
was surprised, too! [audience laughter] This
became my lifelong love affair with Asia. I also discovered
that I love business, and no one was more
surprised than I was. I thought of myself as an artist
and an architect temporarily marooned in the business world. But I discovered I
really love business, and I had to adjust
my own thinking. With the benefit of hindsight,
I was thinking of my own skills in way too narrow a way. For those of you who may be
taking a nontraditional job as you graduate, I encourage
you to think about yourself and your job with an open mind. It’s not a second-rate
departure from the design dream. It can often be a
new direction where you will discover new talent
you don’t know you have. These new directions may not
be possible to envision today, but be alert to them,
and look for them. Don’t limit yourself to becoming
the next Mies van der Roe. Think broadly,
directly, indirectly, outside the box,
any way you can. Question your assumptions,
discard your preconceptions, and imagine the possibilities. Try to think about both yourself
and your path forward the way you learn to think at the GSD. These ways of thinking
are almost certainly much more valuable than anything
specific you’ve learned here. They can help you solve a
whole range of complex problems facing us today, and
they will open up many fascinating avenues towards
your success in your career. When I got the chance
to go to China, it was definitely a
lucky break, and you will have lucky breaks, too. The trick is in
recognizing them. Many lucky breaks come disguised
as catastrophes, as failures, as setbacks, as
nontraditional paths. Be ready to grab those
lucky breaks when they come. Be flexible about
thinking about them and about your own personal
ability to participate in them. Don’t let the way you
define yourself today limit you, and don’t let
your Thanksgiving vacation plans stop you
from going for it. Expect to make mistakes. Admit them when you make them. Some, like my physics disaster,
don’t really matter very much, although they hurt. Some, unfortunately, do
matter, but at least try not to make the same
mistakes again– and that actually turns out to
be much harder than it sounds. Evaluate your mistakes
often and honestly. Cut your losses early and
be analytical about what didn’t work out. And importantly, get going
in another direction that looks more promising. After eight years
at Turner, traveling around Asia and
the Pacific working on business development,
I was ready to move on. This time I knew I wanted
a business position, but I wanted something that also
involved my design interest. I got a job at Tishman
Speyer, which, at the time, was a young, small, New
York-based real estate developer who was
working only in the US. At the time, conventional
wisdom was that real estate is a local business. That worked for me; I
was tired of traveling. But after a year of working
on a project in New York, I was restless. I missed the challenges
of international work. I had not accurately predicted
what would make me happy, which is something we human
beings are uniquely bad at. Instead of looking
for a new job, I decided to try to turn
the job I had into a job that had more of what I liked. A colleague from my
previous China work, who was then working
at American Express, approached me with
a deal in Beijing. I decided to present
it at Tishman Speyer, taking what felt like
an enormous risk. Picture my presentation. My numbers had been prepared
on a yellow legal pad, with a pencil, with
lots of erasing. To say that I had no clue
how to do an underwriting was the understatement
of the millennium. Despite my primitive
underwriting skills, I was able to
persuade the company that there was a lot of
opportunity in China, and that this was
worth exploring. The company took
a big risk, too. Let me give you a vignette
of those early days in China. We were working in Beijing
with a huge, sophisticated, international partner– American Express. So you get the
sense of the scale of the risk of what
this represented for everyone involved. The Chinese government
would not, in those days, allow foreign companies
to rent office space. So all corporate offices were
in the Soviet-designed Beijing Hotel. This meant that any meeting
within the regional office of American Express was held
sitting kneecap to kneecap on two parallel twin beds. The accounting department,
such as it was, was a huge desktop computer
on the vanity in the bathroom. And our Chinese counterparty,
who didn’t trust our computer, sat patiently on the
commode with a giant abacus checking our numbers. And she was usually faster
than our computer at the time. Interestingly and surprisingly,
working on this China project led directly to Tishman Speyer’s
first project in Europe. Citibank was looking
for a developer for a troubled
project in Frankfurt. And because there were so few
American developers working outside the US,
they approached us. This became Tishman
Speyer’s first built project outside the United States– the MesseTurm to them
project in Frankfurt designed by Helmut Jahn. It was the tallest building
in Europe for some time, and it was a symbol of
Frankfurt for many, many years. It launched our
international business, and my career with it. In the meantime, the Beijing
American Express Center was fully designed
and financed– ready to start construction,
when the students strikes and violence in Tiananmen
Square occurred in 1989. The market for the
project literally disappeared overnight. Tishman Speyer left, too-
pulling up stakes and giving up on both the project and the
idea of a business in China for a while. This improbable path from New
York to China to Frankfurt was the beginning of Tishman
Speyer’s global business, which we expanded into in England,
France, Spain, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, India,
and then back to China. This was also the beginning of
my 32 years at Tishman Speyer, during which time,
at various points, I ran virtually all of our
international businesses. Today, Tishman Speyer
is one of the leading international developers. We’re working on projects in
30 markets in seven countries. The work during my time
varied from new towns on the outskirts of Shanghai
to business centers in India– from the Golden
Triangle in Paris to the new port
in Rio de Janeiro. I had the privilege of being
right in the middle of it. I had somehow blundered my
way into a great job I never dreamed of. Not only was my
personal path lacking in any specific
goal at the outset, it was completely nonlinear
zigging and zagging from design to business
from local to global. I had to challenge
my preconceived ideas about my own talents, and
I had to shape the job I had to suit me better. I definitely took risks– sometimes even taking risks I
didn’t understand at the time. I had setbacks, and
I made mistakes, but I also had some lucky
breaks and successes– always fumbling
forward, gradually tacking towards something
that felt generally right. So remember to use your
GSD creative training as you think about your own
talents and your career. Remember to look hard for
those lucky breaks, especially when they’re
disguised as setbacks, and be willing to take a risk
to take advantage of them. I’d like to talk for just
a minute now about impact. Once you frame the
right question, and have thought creatively
about your own talents and have shaped your
job in your career– allowing yourself to fail and
zig and zag along the way– it’s very important,
also, to think about how to have the maximum
impact in your career– how to bring your ideas from
abstraction into action. How to make something happen. Think of what you’re doing in
terms of your effect and not just your output. The metaphysical
question has been asked, if a tree falls in a forest and
no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, if you ask me,
if it’s your career we’re talking about, the answer
is it definitely does not. If no one reads the
report you wrote, it doesn’t matter
how good it is. If no one hears your
idea, it doesn’t matter that it was brilliant. For me, possibly
the biggest surprise about entering the
working world was learning that getting
something done is always all about people. Being right is
only the beginning of getting something done. It’s necessary, but
it’s not sufficient. This will be true
whether you are designing someone’s home,
a city plan, a new policy, or an algorithm. Getting something done and
making something happen has much, much, much
more to do with people than with anything else. People make the difference
between the good idea that gets lost and the good idea
that changes the world. So here are seven
things that I’ve learned about how to
maximize your impact. Tip number 1– the importance
of building relationships. Relationships are critically
important everywhere, even more so with the ascendance
of technology. Build good long-term
relationships, which will become your
network of support over time. Be a team player. Be the person other
people want to work with. Be willing to take up the slack
and do the uninteresting work that your team needs done. Be willing to be a good
supporter of other people. Be generous with
your praise and help. Always take the high road. Always do what’s right
in the long term. And never assume that
someone you treated poorly will disappear from your life. Because the world is very
interconnected and very small, and your professional
world is even smaller. So not only are these
old-fashioned pieces of advice the right thing to
do, over a lifetime, they will help you build
relationships that will be critical to your success. Tip number two– create a
leverage for your talents. All of you have highly
specialized talents and, rightly, are very
proud of your expertise. But because we are all
so specialized today, the need for collaboration among
different areas of expertise is much greater
than ever before. Partnerships provide
leverage for you as you address the
issues that interest you. Collaborating with
other people provides an opportunity for learning
things you don’t know. Occasionally, it even shows
you that you are wrong. No one ever wants to
hear that, but we all know it’s extremely valuable. You can learn from
anyone; and I hope you will commit
yourself to continuing to learn throughout your life. Don’t discount anyone
or any experience as a learning opportunity. People from other specialties,
peers, older people, younger people, people from
other countries and cultures– you may find people who are
intimidated by your Harvard degree, and you may have
to encourage them to share with you what they know. Sometimes, you just
need to be observant in order to learn something. I remember one summer when I
was working as a carpenter. I was installing
flooring, and I was working with a guy who
had no high school degree. And he had kind of
a dirty crew cut. I noticed when I hammered
the nail into the wood, I very often split the
wood; and he never did. When I asked him what the
secret was, he didn’t answer me. He just showed me as he slid
the nail through his dirty hair and hammered it into
the wood, saying, the grease helps it slide. Now I’m sure there are other
techniques for installing flooring, but this
one definitely works. You can learn from anyone. Communication, tip number three. Despite the increased
nationalism and isolationism in the ether today,
the globalization genie is out of the bottle. We’re more global than
ever, but we are certainly not homogeneous. As I look around this
wonderful crowd today, I’m thrilled to see so many
different nationalities represented. There’s a greater need
than ever, as all of us know, to bridge across
our differences. It’s critical to understand, if
you want to get something done, what lens other people bring– what history, what culture,
what expertise they bring to the issue at hand. It’s especially
important to understand, with clarity, what lens you
bring to the discussion. And if this isn’t a
nonlinear exercise perfect for your GSD education,
I don’t know what is. Now that the international
business world often speaks such excellent
English, it’s tempting for us Americans to assume everyone
thinks and communicates as we do. We discovered, in
my time at Turner, that even when the same
language is spoken, even when there are two
native English speakers– one from Singapore,
one from New York– the way they communicate
is so different, it caused us a lot of problems
till we understood it. Let me explain. If I ask an American
colleague, how’s the project? He’ll say, great! On time, on budget. If I ask my Singaporean
colleague the same question with the same project
facts, he will say, quietly, I think it should
probably be OK. The New Yorker hears that
and immediately says, why? What’s the matter? What’s wrong? Because if we use that
conditional language, it would mean
something was wrong. The Singaporean, justifiably,
feels a little irritated because they feel they just
said everything was OK, and they’re
wondering why the New Yorker’s continuing
to cross-examine them in such an aggressive way. On the other hand, if the
Singaporean asked the New Yorker the same question
and got, project’s great, on time, on budget,
the Singaporean might feel that the
American was exaggerating, was missing the
nuances of the project, and was maybe even
misrepresenting the facts. Communication is not
easy in either direction. So commit yourself to
listening with care and with an astutely
focused cultural lens. Understanding how different
cultures communicate bad news is critically
important if you’re responsible for a project
in a remote location. Americans generally
think that the best way to communicate bad news
is directly and immediately. And Americans feel
anything other than that sometimes lacks
transparency or even is deliberately misleading. In Asia, I’m told that
communicating indirectly is a sign of respect since
a subordinate would never embarrass someone from
headquarters by showing there was something they didn’t know. The boss is supposed to
be in charge, after all. The Asian hint, or
indirect communication, which is often disregarded
by Americans at their peril, can be easily misunderstood. I learned this the hard
way when I was traveling with my family in India. The travel agent, when we
were planning the trip, commented mildly
that there could be fog at that time of the year. I ignored it, not recognizing
the significance of the remark, and I forged ahead
with the planning. When the thick fog
canceled our flight on Christmas Eve
from Delhi to Agra, we ended up making a slow
and torturous 12-hour ride through the dark on dirt
roads over a remarkably short distance. I recall the travel
agent’s comment, and I promised myself,
through gritted teeth, to listen intently whenever
anyone in those parts made a comment. The travel agents
certainly had warned me, but I hadn’t heard it. There are even
nonverbal messages communicated by the format
you choose for a discussion. This is why face-to-face
meetings are always so important for big decisions. This is especially
true in Asia, but I find it’s true everywhere
I’ve ever worked. Today, when the
facts of a discussion are so easily communicated
by email or by phone, it’s extremely tempting
to communicate that way. But for important discussions,
a face-to-face meeting is always better. It demonstrates the
importance you attach to the outcome of the meeting. It proves your own commitment
to the issue at hand. The effort it takes for you to
come for a face-to-face meeting shows respect and gives
face, as they say in Asia, to the person you are meeting. And importantly, I have
found that offering this gesture of
respect often gets you a long way towards
the answer you want. My point here is that
accomplishing anything, it’s essential to work
extremely hard at understanding other cultures– how
they communicate, both verbally and nonverbally. It’s also essential
to understand that your own way
of communicating may need modification to be
comprehensible or effective in other cultures and languages. American norms can be
seen by other cultures as overly aggressive, impolite,
too personal, too direct, too confrontational, and since
it is all about people, you can’t overemphasize the
importance of finding a way to bridge these differences. Tip number four– when
no does not mean no. In the many years I’ve
worked around the globe in different cultures,
one big surprise was that almost everywhere,
including in the US, no doesn’t mean no. It means, we need
to talk about this. Let me be very quick
to say, I am just talking about the
professional world. In your personal
life, no does mean no. But at work, when someone
says something is impossible, find out why. Is it unsafe or illegal? Or is it just expensive,
or inconvenient, or embarrassing in some way
to the person you’re asking? Does it just require
someone to understand better or to be persuaded? Is it just unpopular? Is there a historical
or cultural constraint that makes someone
think it won’t work? Or maybe it’s just
unorthodox or unusual. Once you know what “no”
means in a particular case, you can think through how
to solve it to make it work. I recall on a first 70-story
building in Frankfurt, we were denied a
building permit. We were told that for
fire-safety reasons, we were required to have
a 70-story exterior fire stair, which struck
us as a bad design idea and a terrifying prospect. We explored the
questions and we learned that the fire regulations
had been written for low-rise buildings,
because there were so few high-rise buildings
in those days, and they’d never
updated the code. We worked with the
fire department, and we toured in other cities
touring high-rise buildings, showing them pressurized
interior fire stairs, computerized class
E systems, and so forth, and we persuaded them
to update the code and to approve our project. So take the time to understand
what “no” really means when you hear it. In any professional context, it
will make all the difference. Tip number five– probably the
most important skill of all is learning to
build a consensus. Starting with determining
who needs to agree for something to move forward. Understand your counterparty
and what he or she is looking for in the discussion. Cultivate your EQ. Learn to read the
room so you understand the nonverbal communication
that is happening around you. Is someone opposing
you because they are posturing for someone else? Are they disagreeing
because going along with you would embarrass
them in some way? Is there a history that’s
affecting the discussion? Does your counterparty
have a different agenda? Is there something
you can give them without impeding your
agenda that would help them with their agenda? Find common ground with the
others whose support you need, and before any
large meeting where you want to reach
consensus, talk one on one with each key player. Have coffee. Have lunch. Chat informally– so you
understand their perspective and what might prevent
them from agreeing. This way, you can
defuse any objections and can forge
agreement privately so no one has to lose
face by backing down in the public meeting. Build allies ahead of
time outside the room. And importantly, count your
votes before the meeting so you never put the
question till you know you’re going to win. Tip number 6– do whatever
it takes to get it done. I have found that
on most initiatives, there are unexpected
obstacles that require you to do things
you never anticipated. Always be decision oriented
and not process oriented. Be the person who’s willing
to do whatever it takes to accomplish your objective. Now when I say, do
whatever it takes, I have to immediately clarify
that you should never, ever, under any circumstances– no
matter how high the stakes– ever cross an ethical or
a legal boundary, never. But with that
exception, I do mean that you should be willing
to do what it takes. During the time that
I ran Tishman Speyer’s Indian operation, there was a
moment when our local country head resigned, and
we were worried that the rest of the team might
become demotivated and resign, too. This was a classic example where
only a face-to-face meeting would do. I needed to drop everything
and fly to India for one day to meet with
a team to explain how important our Indian
operation was to the company and to me, and to reinforce
to people, individually, the bright future they
would have if they stayed with the company and if they
followed my leadership forward as we built the business. I jumped on a plane ready for
my long flight in my jeans, and t-shirt, and my
ancient moccasins, ready to make my pitch
to my colleagues. They lost my luggage. And I arrived at 2:00 AM with
no fresh clothes of any kind before my 8:00 AM
meeting with our lawyers to prepare for my 9:00
AM meeting with the team. I thought I improvised pretty
well when I persuaded the hotel staff to lend me a white,
crisp shirt with a collar, and I was hoping no one
would notice the Taj Hotel emblem on it. But when I met with our
lawyer, she immediately told me this would not do. My spirits fell. But then, she offered
to buy me something. She said we didn’t have
time to buy Western clothes, and she then terrified
me by saying, she would not recommend a
sari because if you’re not used to wearing a sari,
it can come unwound. And this proved to me, again,
that just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. So as she left me in the car to
go purchase something for me, I desperately called out
the open window, please, something dark,
conservative, plain, simple! She returned with a great
smile of satisfaction, sure she’d found the perfect thing. We stopped at a local cafe
for me to change into it, and she handed me the bag. It was something called
a shalwar kameez. For those of you not
familiar with this, it’s a classic Indian
one-size-fits-all, loose tunic over
loose fitting pants. And it looks elegant and
beautiful on Indian women. She had chosen a banana
yellow, gold lame, and crimson striped tunic with
sequins over matching banana yellow pants which had
a drawstring top that would fit an elephant,
matching crimson cuffs that snapped tightly at the
ankles, and then my moccasins. I was already nervous
about my mission and my likelihood of success. I knew I had to
convince people that I was a serious person working for
a major multinational company and ask them to bet their
professional careers on following me. In Western terms, I was
not dressed for success. I’ve never felt so totally
outside my comfort zone. But at 10 minutes to
9:00, I entered the office and with butterflies in my
stomach, I made my pitch. To my huge surprise,
the team was delighted. Even though they
may have thought I looked not the way
I usually looked, they felt I’d gone
the extra mile to reach out to their culture,
to respect our Indian business and our Indian staff,
and to show my commitment to the Indian business
we were building, which is still robust today. In the end, not
one person left us. There are clearly many takeaways
from this stressful moment, including– always travel
with a backup outfit. But you cannot possibly
overestimate the importance of showing people your
willingness to reach across a cultural divide,
to go the extra mile, and to demonstrate your personal
commitment to the success of a joint cause. Nor can you ever
fully anticipate the crazy things
you will have to do to accomplish your objectives. My final piece of advice
comes back to you, and I hope it will
give you some comfort. You are all excellent students
with high SAT and GMAT scores, stellar GPAs, and you’re
accustomed to being close to perfect at
everything you do. That is admirable
and impressive. And in today’s
competitive world, it may even be a necessary
prerequisite for some of the things you want to do. But I honestly
think an expectation of uniformly perfect
performance does not prepare you for a high-impact
career or a happy life. As you move beyond the
student experience, as your focus expands to
include partners, children, philanthropic projects,
aging parents– and as you face increasingly
complex responsibilities with higher stakes and
more people affected, the standard of perfection
is simply not achievable– not at everything,
not every day. So don’t try to give yourself
a perfect A in every task ahead of you. You’ll go crazy, and
it can’t be done. But be intentional about it. Decide which areas
of your life you’re willing to get a C and maybe
an F. But don’t get a C or an F by default. Give yourself
permission to have a dirty house or messy closets. Decide not to work
out sometimes. Let your car
registration elapse. Or skip the meeting
in the office when your child is
in a school play. But be intentional about
what matters most to you at each juncture. Your priorities will change
over time and even every day. They should. In the continuing debate
about whether any of us can have it all,
I vote yes; but I don’t think you
can have all of it simultaneously every day
in every area of your life. The good news is that
you can have most of it most of the time in
most areas of your life. So pick the ones that
matter, enjoy your successes, embrace your failures,
and make both deliberate. In conclusion,
you are all better prepared than any other group
of graduates in history. Technology has provided
you with better tools to create leverage
for your talents than anyone has ever had before. Your GSD education
has taught you ways of thinking that
will allow you to address issues of great complexity. These are challenging times. Times when the centrality
of the design and arts has never been more important. The turbulence of
these complex times offers you many,
many opportunities. So think broadly and
creatively about your talents and about your career, allow
yourself to zig and zag and occasionally fail. But make your journey
forward toward something that fulfills you. Remember always to think
in terms of impact– communicating and
collaborating with your peers to leverage your
talents and to have the greatest impact on the
issues you care about the most. I have confidence that you
will achieve great things. I know you will become good
stewards of the environment, great leaders of
your communities, and thoughtful
citizens of the globe. I’m confident that you will
also find great personal rewards and satisfaction along the way. Congratulations and the very
best of luck to all of you. Thank you. [applause] Wasn’t that wonderful? [applause unbroken] It’s been a wonderful year. It’s been a long year. I know that the inspiring
words of Katherine were not just for the students,
they were equally important for the faculty
and for the staff. I know that tonight I’ll be
thinking about those seven points and I will try
to remember all of them. Really, thank you so
much for those words. Now in the immortal
words of the Singaporean, there may be, I’m hoping,
some drinks for you. [audience laughter] So please
join us for a reception. And if you don’t mind, we should
go around the building this way to the front, and
then come back again where the reception is held. Thank you. Not through the stage, this way.

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