21 July 2016

As the recipient of an honorary doctorate I was required to make a speech to the room of new graduates, their friends and families.

Lawrence and Gail Jones

Thanks to my wonderful wife Gail.

What an extraordinary moment. As a kid from Denbigh whose academic success was limited to four U grades, I never thought that I would experience a graduation, never mind be offered such a prestigious award and be addressing a graduation ceremony.

Trying to decide what to say was a challenge. What do graduates want to hear? What will help them on their journey? It came down to three things. The three elements of my life that I learned were most important.

When I was introduced at the ceremony earlier, the majority of the things mentioned happened later in my life, from age 30 or so.

This time ties into the pivotal moment in my life, when I learned my first big lessons: the importance of time.

If you have read my blog for a while, you may know about my avalanche. Snowboarding off piste on a lads skiing holiday, I was caught in an avalanche, buried under 8ft of snow, suffocating.

When you are faced with the reality that you’ve come to the end, you don’t think about the Ferrari that you never had or the bigger house that you wanted; you think about the people, the amazing people in your life. As I waited there, packed in with snow, losing consciousness, I listed all of the incredible people that I was lucky enough to have in my life: my wonderful girlfriend, and now wife, Gail, my parents, our friends. I prayed for a second chance. A chance to shift my focus from making money and being successful, to making a difference to people.

Luckily, in our skiing party we had a thoracic heart surgeon and a casualty doctor, and even more luckily, I hadn’t been carrying the spade! They dug me out, resuscitated me and I was given a second chance.

That was when I learned just how precious time really is.

We all have the same amount of time in the day, so how come there are some people who achieve so much more with that time?

This brings me to my second point. Can we make the most of our time if we don’t plot our course on a map?

Many years ago, I read about Earl Nightgale who was one of the survivors of Pearl Harbour. He taught me how the human brain works. Imagine a ship in a harbour. With a destination, a map, a crew and an engine, on the majority of occasions it will reach its destination. When you have none of those things and you cut the ship loose, how far would you go? Likely it wouldn’t even leave the harbour.

Our brains are much like this. Once we decide on the destination, we have the tools to get ourselves there.

Everything starts from a single thought. The graduates in that room started their degree with a single thought and followed on from there, through their studies and to their graduation. All stemming from one thought about going to university.

So, we know that time is of the essence and that we need to set a course for where we want to go, what next?

I often reference a 1953 study at Yale University when talking about setting a goal. The study looked at a group of graduates, much like those in the room yesterday. Revisiting them 20 years later, they found that a small group were significantly happier and more successful. Obviously these are not measurable results, so they looked into the monetary value of the happier group and discovered that this 3% were richer than the other 97% combined.

What was different about the 3%? They wrote down their goals. Now, I don’t know why it works, but it does and I wholeheartedly recommend writing down each and every one of your goals.

I hope to hear from the graduates in the room at MMU Business School in 20 years’ time to listen to their stories and advice. They are at the start of an amazing journey and this is where the hands-on learning begins. I wish them all the very best of luck and once again thank the university for this incredible honour.

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