In my first post I defined excellence and how it differs from success. When we think about success, we are often measuring it against something or someone else. Successful people are typically associated with the attainment of wealth or popularity, while excellence is found in people who are intrinsically motivated to perform at their highest potential. They crave and strive for improvement and they usually won’t rest until things have reached a certain self-imposed standard of excellence, which ironically, often yields success.
In a recent entrepreneurship club meeting at the Ozmen Center, we scheduled to have Ed Zschau come talk about his experience in business and entrepreneurship. His life has taken many paths as a Stanford, Harvard, Princeton professor, former Silicon Valley CEO, Venture Capitalist and State of California U.S. Congressman. Now he spends the majority of his time in Northern Nevada, teaching a course at the University of Nevada, Reno while also traveling back and forth to lecture at Princeton.
I met Ed before the start of the Fall 2015 semester when he taught a course called High-Tech Entrepreneurship in The College of Engineering at the University. We worked together to make his course open to MBA students and as a result of that process, I saw first-hand the amount of preparation Ed puts into teaching. Even after offering a course numerous times, he reviews new and existing material, familiarizes with the course list and the classroom. When asked, he said that preparation is the number one tip to maintain excellence in the variety of positions he’s held and in his current work as a professor.
Preparation is the number one tip to maintain excellence in the variety of positions I’ve held and in my current work as a professor.
He quoted Benjamin Franklin who said, ‘by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.’ He teaches primarily by the case method, so getting through his course requires great understanding of the course material, lively discussion and participation from each student. He spends more time preparing for class and being present with his students in classes because he doesn’t believe in using teaching assistants. He says that students don’t want to be graded by a TA; they want their professor to review their work and provide real feedback.
One distinction he made about personality is that you can’t be an entrepreneur, politician or be a good teacher as an introvert. You have to be willing to go out there on the tight rope with no safety net. As a professor of over 3,000 students, he says excellence requires that he genuinely cares about the relationships he makes with his students, particularly in maintaining contact once a course is complete. One of his former students Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4-Hour Workweek, attributed his book to what he learned in a course he took with Ed.
You can’t be an entrepreneur, politician or be a good teacher as an introvert. You have to be willing to go out there on the tight rope with no safety net.
It would take someone with solid values to fill his shoes. The main values Ed refers to are integrity, honesty and humility. ‘There is no limit to what you can achieve in the world as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.’ That was something Ronald Reagan said in the Oval during a time when Ed represented California’s 12th District in the United States House of Representatives. It’s tough to find someone with that level of humility, particularly someone who’s in politics. Leaders give credit and take the blame, and so often we see it the other way around.
The advice he’d give to his 20-year-old self is to live a life that matters and wake up excited about what you’re doing. Do the best work you know how so that you never look back and wonder how things would have turned out if only you would have really tried. If you find yourself thinking about doing something other than your current assignment, it’s time for a change. Find the motivation to be different and take risks that are associated with doing new things that will change the world in a positive way. It’s leaving footprints that drives Ed toward excellence.
Do the best work you know how so that you never look back and wonder how things would have turned out if only you would have really tried.