MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY COMMENCEMENT
JUNE 2, 2000
© Copyright 2000 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P
All rights reserved. Do not use without written permission from HP.
Good morning. Thank you very much.
It is perhaps an understatement to say it's an honor to be
back at MIT, addressing the graduating class of the year 2000.
As I look out on this crowd, it is both humbling and inspiring.
I'd like to start my remarks this morning with special thanks
to all of you who have sent me emails in the last couple of
weeks. You see, when I sat down to write this speech, as commencement
speakers naturally do, I tried to figure out what would be
most meaningful to you in a time of tremendous change, in
an era of prosperity, in this new world rushing towards all
And so, rather than impose my world view on you, I thought
I'd ask you to give me a little advice, and so I decided to
do a little research.
I sent out an email to all the graduates, asking you not
only where I should focus, but what I should avoid. And I
must say, you are both a prolific and a diverse bunch. I received
hundreds of messages. And the mail I received actually gives
you some great insights into the graduating class here at
As soon as one person would ask me to talk about something,
the next person would say, please don't talk about that. Many
of you asked me what it takes to succeed as a woman in business.
Others said, for heaven sakes don't talk about being a woman.
Some of you were curious about my work at Hewlett-Packard,
but just as many said, we don't want to hear about Hewlett-Packard.
Some of you wanted me to talk about the future of technology,
but others said, I've studied enough about technology, please
talk about something else.
Some said they wanted to hear about leadership. But one gentleman,
in particular, who shall remain nameless, was very adamant
in saying that he didn't want to hear anything about leadership.
And, by the way, he also did not want to hear anything about
Microsoft or Elian Gonzales. You know who you are.
The longer I looked at the messages, however, certain patterns
began to emerge and slowly it became clear to me what I think
you really wanted to hear. You wanted this address to be based
on my life experience, not esoteric theory. You wanted to
know the best way to make the decisions you'll need to live
life, to build a career, and, with that one exception, of
that nameless aforementioned gentleman, you actually did want
to know how a leader can lead in this new landscape that's
emerging from the mist. And, oh, I must also add, that on
one point there was complete unanimity: please don't run over
your time. On that last point I do promise to be brief.
And so, this morning, I'd like to talk about journeys, how
you get from one place to another, and how sometimes the journey
brings you back home. In some ways, today, for me, is about
coming home. I was sitting in one of those chairs on the shady
side only eleven years ago.
In 1989, as a graduating Sloan Fellow, I can honestly say
I didn't expect to be CEO of a company like Hewlett-Packard;
truthfully, I don't think I expected to be a CEO at all. I
can honestly say that I never would have predicted the huge
impact that technology would today be playing in all our lives.
And certainly, if you had looked at me in my cap and gown,
seated in those chairs, eleven years ago, logic would not
have indicated that I would be your commencement speaker today.
Journeys in life are far more random, far less orderly, than
they seem at first glance. The reason I say first glance is
that paths appear random, are random, especially when you
are looking at them one step at a time. It's only when you
stand back and see the whole journey in perspective, the paths
chosen, the paths rejected, a pattern emerges, a pattern that
over time defines the journey of life. And today for you is
a wonderful day to put your journey in perspective.
The significance of commencement exercises dates back over
centuries, because graduations have always been markers, life
markers, along the way. Your time here at MIT and the journey
that lies before you will be defined not only by the power
of your logic and your intellect, but equally by the power
of your aspiration and determination.
When I sat where you are eleven years ago, or when I sat
in a different chair three thousand miles away at Stanford
twenty-four years ago, the proud holder of an undergraduate
degree in Medieval History, yes, that's true, or when I worked
as a secretary in the shipping department of a company called
Hewlett-Packard, typing bills of lading, logic and intellect
would never have predicted that I would one day return to
run that same Palo Alto company.
And this is, of course, exactly my point. At any one moment
in time you often can't see where your path is heading and
logic and intellect alone won't lead you to make the right
choices, won't in fact take you down the right path. You have
to master not only the art of listening to your head, you
must also master listening to your heart and listening to
your gut. One has to look beyond the immediate choice of it
all. It is too easy to freeze up at moments exactly like today.
I can sympathize.
In some ways, the world you are going into, while far more
prosperous, is actually far more complex, far more complicated,
than the one I faced at Stanford in 1976, or even the one
I faced here in 1989. But have no fear, although fear is part
of the journey as well, because in fact you have all the tools
you need up here in your head, here in your heart, and in
your gut. All you really have to do is engage your heart,
your gut, and your mind in every decision you make, engage
your whole self and the journey will reveal itself with the
passage of time. And so let me put that into personal context
I can see now that I started my professional journey on the
day at age 4 when I declared to my parents and to the world,
"Mom, Dad, I want to be a fireman". Now this was not some
precocious instinct towards civic duty. No, it really wasn't
terribly profound. In fact, it was simply that I loved the
color red and I thought the black and white dogs with spots
were really cool. But when I look back now I see a kid who
was not afraid to commit to a different path through life,
and I see parents who encouraged their child's ambition, whatever
I see now also that I began my path to become a CEO on the
day I decided to quit law school. After I realized that being
a fireman was actually about more than the color red and the
dogs, and I knew I couldn't paint like my artist mother, I
automatically assumed that I would follow in my father's footsteps.
You see, my father was a law professor and a judge, and his
guidance and example have always meant the world to me. And
so, after studying medieval things at Stanford, I went on
to law school. I followed the logical path that I, and others,
had always presumed for me. I wanted my father to be proud
of me. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
But it quickly became apparent to me in law school that I
didn't like studying the law. For me, the emphasis on precedent
felt confining. My father loved the law; he still loves the
law, but while I was intellectually challenged, the rest of
me was left cold. And so this presented for me a gut-wrenching
dilemma. Do I risk letting my father down? Do I stick it out
in law school? Or do I go do something else? Do I let go of
this notion of the logical path for Carly?
And while that decision tortured me at the time, I literally
didn't sleep for three months, I made the decision and I didn't
blink and I left law school. What seemed at the moment, especially
to my father, a random, ill-advised move, was actually an
important life lesson and a marker in my own journey.
And I genuinely believe that life teaches lessons in strange
ways. The lesson I learned at that life marker was love what
you do, or don't do it. Don't make a choice of any kind, whether
in career or in life, just because it pleases others or because
it ranks high on someone else's scale of achievement or even
because it seems to be, perhaps even for you at the time,
simply the logical thing to do at that moment on your path.
Make the choice to do something because it engages your heart
as well as your mind. Make the choice because it engages all
of you. Remember as a graduate of a world class university,
as a graduate of this place, with your double-E or your degree
in Physics or Computer Science or Architecture, the freedom
to choose is now yours.
And to make the most of that freedom, use your mind and your
heart and your gut. Freedom to choose can sometimes feel like
a terrible burden, but the burden is greatly lightened when
we learn how to use our whole selves, when we realize that
we have everything we need for this journey of life.
Now, here at MIT this morning, we are celebrating the graduation
of your minds. Your minds have done exceptionally well in
this training phase. You have proven beyond a shadow of a
doubt that you can absorb knowledge, and invent, and create.
And the stuff that you have stored in your mind will be immensely
valuable without question.
But your mind alone won't do it. When you leave here you
start on the second important journey, figuring out how to
listen to your heart. Now, of course, for some of you, engaging
all of yourself is natural; it's easy for you. You've known
how to do it perhaps since birth. But for the rest of us,
getting there is a process. It can take years, decades. Some
of us never get to know our whole selves, but we need to keep
My own process of finding the soul to guide me brings me
back once again to my parents. My mother was a stay-at-home
wife and an artist, but my mother, more than anyone else,
taught me about the power of aspiration and courage. She also
taught me the world of dreams expressed in art, the world
of things freed from the laws of everyday. And she did it
with a strength and a passion that I wish could be bottled.
Even when it wasn't easy or convenient, both my mother and
father were ultimately true to themselves. And I absorbed
that lesson from them. Their definition of greatness was about
greatness of character.
And, of course, now it's time to turn to the parents in the
audience, all of you who have instilled greatness of character
into the graduates seated before us. And so I'd like to take
a moment for the graduates to look out into this audience
and find the people who have helped get you to this place,
your parents, your grandparents, your partners, your guardians,
your friends, whoever has been a catalyst, whoever has had
defining influence and lasting impact on your life, whether
they truly know it, whether you really see it, whether you
really fully feel its weight yet. Take a moment now and honor
all of them.
And parents, guardians, partners and friends, those who have
sacrificed so much for today's graduates, I have perhaps unfortunately
some advice for you today as well. If you have done your job
right, your soon to be newly minted MIT grad is going to follow
their own path. If you have done your job well, they may in
fact surprise you, confound you, even defy you. They may not
become the doctor, or the teacher, or the electrical engineer,
or the next billion dollar dot.com founder or Nobel Laureate.
Then, again, they might. And that's OK. It is probably difficult
to fathom, especially because you have worked so hard, sacrificed
so much, to get your graduates to this incredible place. But
your ultimate job is to let them go. Today is an important
day for you, an acknowledgement of one chapter closed and
the handing over of the pen, so they can write their own next
In this chapter, the one that is now coming to a close, when
you first embarked upon it I think many of you were drawn
to this place because of one of the words in its name: technology.
Now some of you asked me to address the changing role of technology
in business and in life. As you draw this first chapter in
your life to a close, we are also drawing the first chapter
in the Information Age to a close. And I believe we are now
entering the Renaissance phase of the Information Age, where
creativity and ideas are the new currency, and invention is
a primary virtue, where technology truly has the power to
transform lives, not just businesses, where technology can
help us solve fundamental problems.
In this new world we must always remember that technology
is only as valuable as the use to which it is put. In the
end, technology is ultimately about people. And in this technology
Renaissance, we will witness and experience the fundamental
transference of power to the people, to the masses. To the
individuals who bring their own spark, their own energy to
the process, technology becomes not about bits and bytes,
but about the celebration of people's minds and people's hearts.
And so, what will it mean to be a leader in this world that
you are entering? How must leadership be re-invented to be
commensurate with the opportunity, the world we have just
Leadership in this new landscape is not about controlling
decision-making. We don't have time anymore to control decision-making.
It's about creating the right environment. It's about enablement,
empowerment. It is about setting guidelines and boundaries
and parameters and then setting people free.
Leadership is not about hierarchy or title or status; it
is about having influence and mastering change. Leadership
is not about bragging rights or battles or even the accumulation
of wealth; it's about connecting and engaging at multiple
levels. It's about challenging minds and capturing hearts.
Leadership in this new era is about empowering others to decide
for themselves. Leadership is about empowering others to reach
their full potential. Leaders can no longer view strategy
and execution as abstract concepts, but must realize that
both elements are ultimately about people.
Now, of course, traditional aspects of being a Chief Executive
will continue to be important, like understanding the business
or the institution, understanding the numbers or the assets,
pushing the right levers to bring about the right results.
But the most magical and tangible and ultimately most important
ingredient in the transformed landscape is people. The greatest
strategy in the world, the greatest financial plan in the
world, the greatest turnaround in the world, is only going
to be temporary if it isn't grounded in people.
There are small and large acts of leadership. And small acts
of leadership can change the world as surely as large acts.
Ultimately they can have as much effect on people's lives
as big ones. A mother who teaches a child inventive ways of
thinking, or a mother that encourages her daughter's desire
to become a fireman, that's a small act of leadership. A dad
who lets his daughter quit the law, that's a small act of
Expressed another way, your generation of leaders will know
that every one on this earth is born with the potential to
lead. And that is a deep and fundamental shift, a shift worth
celebrating. Every man and every woman on this earth is born
to lead. A leader's greatest obligation is to make possible
an environment where people's minds and hearts can be inventive,
brave, human and strong, where people can aspire to do useful
and significant things, where people can aspire to change
At Hewlett-Packard we call this way of thinking, this set
of behaviors, the rules of the garage. You see the garage
is a special place to us; it is where we began. But these
rules are about the way we compete and the way we work.
And our rules are, believe you can change the world, work
quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever, know when
to work alone and when to work together; share tools, ideas,
trust your colleagues. No politics, no bureaucracy: these
are ridiculous in a garage. The customer defines a job well
done. Radical ideas are not bad ideas. Invent different ways
of working. Make a contribution every day. If it doesn't contribute,
it doesn't leave the garage. Believe that together we can
do anything. Invent.
These rules, while they really are core to the culture and
behaviors that drive HP, I believe that if you carry these
rules with you on your journey, if you create an environment
where people's hearts and minds are fully engaged, where strategy
is ennobling, where great aspirations are powered by the desires
of people to do something worthwhile, then you will have touched
others you encounter on your journey.
And now I am almost finished and you are just beginning a
great journey. You are commencing your life's work. Many of
you are commencing your lives as adults. I'm a bit further
along than you. Perhaps that's why you ask me what, if anything,
I would have done differently. Would I skip medieval history
and philosophy? Would I have stayed in law school? Would I
have become a fireman? Would I have preferred not to have
been a secretary? And the answer to all of these questions
is, no. I still believe that everything I did had a purpose,
even if the purpose was to tell me I was going the wrong way.
I believe every lesson life has taught has prepared me for
what I do today.
Now, if I could send you an email, every year for the rest
of your days -- don't worry, I won't -- I'd say this: see
your life as a journey, pause at moments like this to see
life's markers and the patterns that emerge, know yourself,
be true to yourself, engage your whole self in everything
you do. Remember that leadership is not in fact about you,
but about the people who you are trying to inspire by unleashing
their talents, their hopes, their aspirations. Remember that
leadership comes in small acts as well as bold strokes. And
last, if technology is your passion, then make sure people
are at the heart of your endeavors.
And finally, remember that throughout this journey, the only
limits that really matter are the ones you put on yourself,
and that those crucial moments in your life, when you know
what you need to do, but others advise against what they perceive
to be a detour from your path, know yourself, trust your whole
self, and don't blink. If you do these things, when you look
back, or maybe when you look down from this podium, you will
know that this journey was a wonderful gift and that you have
made as much of this wonderful gift as you could have.
Thank you very much.
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