Why Not?

Cal Commencement 2015

If you think you can’t do something, ask “why not?”

Probe a little further and dig a little deeper before you write off a potential solution or a course of action.

Two graduation events in the last week week made me think about this.

Our Comms team celebrated the USC graduation of Jamie Zamora, a terrific intern who will join us full time on our Corporate Citizenship team led by Tina Morefield.

Jamie’s colleagues Brooke Hanson and Brynne Dunn asked our whole team to share their words of advice for Jamie. A few of the themes? Build a network, take time for yourself and enjoy the journey.

The whole world is before you, with problems to solve. And you can be part of the solution, starting with the questions you ask.

Some of these themes were echoed in the UC Berkeley commencement I attended this weekend to see my nephew Kodiak Spydell receive his degree in architecture.

And for all of the challenges in the world today, I was encouraged and inspired by this group of students now entering the work world.

Enthusiasm and idealism were tempered by the sober realities we all face — environmental concerns, increasing inequality and economic instability, to name a few.

The “a-ha” moment for me was the extent to which each person can be part of the solution.

No degree is required. Just one simple question can unlock ideas and solutions, no matter who are you.

Instead of thinking “that would never work” or “they won’t let us,” try asking “why not?” instead.

What are all of the possible solutions? What would need to happen to make one or more of them work? And how can you take the first step?

Why not try one of them? What’s the worst that could happen? And what’s the upside if something works?

This kind of thinking struck me in Marc Benioff‘s commencement address at Cal.

As a pioneer of cloud computing and the CEO of Salesforce.com, Benioff has built “the fastest growing top ten software company in the world and the largest customer relationship management company.”

Deeply troubled by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana that could have allowed discrimination against the LGBT community, he spoke out.

In doing so, he galvanized the support of fellow tech leaders and took steps in his own business to make it clear that the threat to civil rights carried consequences.

This had strong echoes of a TEDx Manhattan Beach speaker, David Hochman, whom I mentioned in my first post. He shared his life’s mantra: Why not me? Why not now?

This kind of thinking was evident in Marc Benioff’s actions.

And it came full circle in a story my dad told about his days as an engineering and business student at Berkeley in the tumultuous 60s.

A final exam in a course asked only one question — “why?”

Almost all of the students began writing furiously, filling page after page with lengthy responses.

Except for one student (no, not my dad), who aced the test with a two-word response — “why not?”

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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