There's a challenge to us all in the final lecture of one computer science professor: Do we nurture creativity and enthusiasm, or squash it?
Randy Pausch is a world-renowned computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon and cofounder of the school's Entertainment Technology Center, and in a matter of months he will be dead from the ravages of pancreatic cancer. In his last lecture to the CMU community, the charismatic 46-year-old shared his thoughts on the unshakable power of imagination, will, and childhood dreams.
His lecture last week was a series of lessons, reflections, and stories, deeply personal without being morbid in the least -- Pausch had the audience howling with laughter frequently throughout his 90-minute talk. The father of three children ages 5, 2, and 1, Pausch said that when he was growing up he scribbled mathematical equations all over the walls of his bedroom, and he shared photos of those equations as proof -- he said his parents have left them there to this day. One of the biggest gifts he got from his parents, Pausch said, was that they didn't prohibit his unique version of interior decorating and spared him lectures about how such expression would only diminish the resale value of the house. And he exhorted his audience to extend the same freedom to their children: "If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let 'em do it."
CMU professor Pausch, with his kids
"Let 'em do it." Maybe that's the sort of advice that applies not only to our children, but also to our colleagues at work. In these times of stunning changes in how business is conducted and in the expectations customers have of us, are we all clinging too tightly to the tried and true (well, at least they used to be true) ways of doing things? Do we say we're open to new ideas, but in fact stifle fresh thinking because it's, well, it's just not how we do it here? Do we provide a dynamic and vibrant and knowledge-rich experience for young employees, or do we present them with an image of a totally closed system with no spark, no vitality, and certainly no future? Why are we so afraid to occasionally "let 'em do it?"
Pausch's last lecture has clear relevance in the business world: about courage and strength, leadership and vision, passion and commitment. But its transcendence comes in how it connects the humanity we all share: the wonders of life, the power of family, and the capriciousness of our universe. Randy Pausch dazzles with his professional achievements as one of the premier theorists in video games and related technologies, but where his last lecture truly stands apart is in what he tells us -- without ever preaching -- about ourselves.
We all lead chaotic lives, and we all periodically, or even frequently, promise ourselves that sometime soon we'll slow down. But most of us don't. We vow that we'll spend more time with our spouses and children, but in spite of those good intentions, we don't. We swear we'll get more involved with our communities and with young people, but somehow other priorities keep getting in the way. But after watching this video of Randy Pausch's last lecture and listening to his stories of helping young people achieve their dreams, I know it's much more likely that I'll stop making excuses and will finally achieve that sought-for balance.
The friend who introduced Randy before his final lecture offered this thought from Electronic Arts executive Bing Gordon: "Even more important than Randy's academic, philanthropic, and entrepreneurial accomplishments has been his humanity and the enthusiasm he brings to students and coworkers on a daily basis."
Randy's home page, chronicling his battle with cancer and also his adventures with his family
If you'd like to make a donation to support the research advocated by Pausch, here's the info from his Web site. Make donations payable to "UPCI/Pancreatic Cancer Research/Liver Pancreas Institute," and in the memo section of the check, please note that your gift is given in Randy Pausch's honor and for support of the research of Dr. Herb Zeh.
Development Department, UPMC Cancer Pavilion
Suite 1B, 5150 Centre Ave.
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15232
Or by phone you can contact Kambra McConnel in the Development Department for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute at 412-623-4700.
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