A Lecturer Learns a Lesson
As a guest speaker at one of the nation’s top MBA schools, I was once invited to develop a series of four or five lectures to an advanced marketing class. These young men (happens they were all males) would be future corporate decision makers. All had been steeped in leading edge analytical management systems and theory. But many would be hiring, evaluating, and directing right-brain talent, so the department head spoke to the Dean about an idea, and one fall afternoon, there I was.
My topic: The Creative Process in Marketing Communications.
Not much older than these lads, I was seen at first as a novelty. That notwithstanding, I was also CEO of my own firm, so with more than a bit of amused skepticism, they settled in, albeit, some with arms folded. Half way through that first lecture, the atmosphere began to crackle. Note-taking started. Eyes that had wandered were now trained on the grizzled 33 year old speaker.
I was sharing not theory but specifics, principles learned in over a decade of combat. Nothing I related refuted anything these bright young men had studied. But the perspective was now three dimensional. I told stories. They heard cause-and-effect consequences. Truths came alive.
After each weekly 90-minute session, energized students hung around, jaw-boned among themselves, pursued the lecturer with new questions. First chance he saw, the young instructor ducked out. (“Who was that masked man?”)
Five weeks later, at the conclusion of my final lecture, the eighty or so grad students rose in place and embarrassed me with spontaneous applause.
They’d had a liberating glimpse beyond the orthodoxy of established fact, into sweat-and-risk, on-the-street execution. They’d seen ways to interpret reality other than analytically, not as an audit of what had happened, but as a thinker whose job is to make things happen.
Finding the places where fact and truth merge and become useful lessons is available to all. With trust and readiness, maturing minds tend to open. Our entire canon of literature records more than facts and fancy. If they have the will, a scholar or a mom, a shopkeeper or a laborer, a star athlete or a shy kid with an inquiring mind can discover valuable evidence in the remembered experience of others. Libraries are full of the stuff.
In the years since my precocious lecture days, much of my “fiction” writing has been informed by what I learned participating with ordinary people in good times and bad. Even in the grubby world of commerce.
- Hill, Charles; Grand Strategies – Literature, Statecraft, and World Order; Yale University Press, New Haven & London; 2010.
- Arbery, Glen C.; Why Literature Matters; ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware; 2001.