Randy Pausch was the Professor of Computer Science at an American University.
He was invited to give a speech called “Your Last Lecture”.
The university occasionally invited interesting people to give this talk.
The theme was always the same.
If this was the last lecture you were ever going to give, what would you say?
What would be the most important advice you could pass on?
The different was, this really was Randy Pausch’s last lecture.
He only had a few months to live.
And he died soon after.
Death has a way of focussing the mind.
So the advice he gave wasn’t trivial.
One of the most important lessons he learned was when he made it onto the football team.
On the first day of training the coach began yelling at him.
He couldn’t do anything right, nothing was good enough.
And yet he saw other players getting away with much worse.
Players who couldn’t run or tackle as well as he could.
At the end of the day he sat in the changing room really depressed.
If the coach hated him, why was he bothering?
Maybe he should just quit.
The assistant coach was cleaning up after training.
He said, “Gee, the coach must really like you, huh?”
Pausch said, “How do you figure that, he’s done nothing but chew me out all day.”
The assistant coach said, “I know that, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. He thinks you’re worth bothering with.
Look at all the other guys he didn’t even talk to.
He can see it’s not worth his energy to try to make them better.
The coach doesn’t waste words, believe me.
If he’s spent all day riding your butt, he must think you’ve got something really special.”
That’s when Randy Pausch learned that criticism isn’t always negative.
Criticism can be a chance to grow.
We always think praise is a good thing.
But praise won’t help you grow.
Praise tells you, “You’re doing it right, don’t change.”
Praise is a pleasant feeling for a short while.
Dave Morris was an inspirational advertising teacher.
He describes it like this.
“I remember when I was first teaching, Ron Collins was taking a workshop.
He was famous for being a spiky individual to deal with, and part of the way through he came across a piece of work he hated.
My word did he let the student know.
He dismantled the work in fine detail, and then kept referring back to it as the crit progressed.
I was thinking “You’ve made your point the student knows it’s crap, leave him alone”, but I was too chicken to say anything.
Fortunately Ron found a piece of work he really liked.
So much so, that he disappeared at the end of the crit and came back with a bottle of bubbly for the student from the agency fridge.
So the evening ended well.
But as everyone was getting up to go, Ron stopped them all and said “The student who won the bubbly has done well, but that’s all he’ll remember from tonight – how good he is.
Whereas I think the guy over there will have learned the most from this evening, because he’s had a good kicking and it hurts, and he’ll make sure this never happens again. So I think he’ll have got more out of this crit than anyone else.”
I thought, ‘Gee what a point to make’. And he’s right.
Enzo Ferrari put it differently.
He said, “One sometimes learns more from a lost race than a victory.”
So criticism is often more useful than praise.
And we define ourselves by how open we are to learning and growing.
Lazy people don’t want to grow.
They just want to be told what they’re doing is right.
They’re happy to just stay on the rung they’re on.
People who are good, want to grow.
They want to get off this rung and onto the next rung.
They want to get all the way up the ladder.
So they’re not looking for praise, they’re looking for criticism.
As Eric Clapton said, “If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.”