Made in Sheffield: now stay hungry, stay foolish

Thursday last week saw me wearing my ‘proud Dad’ smile, and tears welling up in my eye (don’t be silly, it’s just hay fever) as my daughter Katie graduated and now the proud owner of a crisp piece of parchment that says ‘2:1 BA Honours in Business Management from the University of Sheffield’, made more poignant as it is my Alma mater. It doesn’t seem five minutes since I was taking Katie for her first outing in the pram.

Amidst the celebratory transition from graduands to graduates, I reflected that the graduation ceremony is where the vice-chancellor tells hundreds of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that individuality is the key to success. Wearing square-shaped mortarboards pulled down to fit snugly on their heads, my hope is that from time to time these folks will let their minds be bold, and wear sombreros.

Graduation is a joyous time full of personal celebration and recognition, warm reflection tinged with sadness about the passage of an era now ending, and anticipation about life beyond the student bar and university library. Of course being a new graduate you feel like a right clever-clogs but in real life never try to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people, or find a different room.

Do you need a plan from here on life’s starting grid? Not for me, throw that thinking out. To me it’s all about working hard and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way. Be curious, live with an open mind, don’t settle for the status quo. All you can do is try very hard to be in the right place at the right time, g o where there is no path and leave a trail. I’ve observed that most undergraduates living their three years at university do leave a trail, mainly of wet towels or dirty pots.

From standing on the shoulders of giants, and a paradoxical lifestyle of intellectual stimulation and alcoholic degradation, graduation releases you from one world and catapults you into another. Moving from the security of university life to the insecurity of real life is, I recall, daunting.  Clearly, life isn’t all about your job, but it’s the first step on the ladder to realising your potential.

I recall my own graduation. Well, just about. It all stays as good memories later in life. I think this is a period in life everyone should enjoy to the fullest. When you’re young you’re not afraid of what comes next, you’re excited by it. Katie, just lie back in the sun and count every beautiful thing you can see.

So let’s capture this future thinking, exuberance and energy of a new graduate and imagine we can take it into our daily business thinking. If you had the vitality, the naivety and swagger of a young graduate, what more could you achieve? You’d be hungry, eager, always looking forward, never resting on your laurels, curious, restless and bold. This would make you alert, full of beans and unafraid to try new things.

Agility in our constantly changing business world is a key to success, formulating strategies ahead of our competition to find a faster way to the future. But I think many people miss pivotal opportunities because they expect and accept the status quo. Yet surely inertia is a version of complacency, acceptance of where you are. Don’t allow complacency to keep you in mediocrity. Don’t grow comfortable where you are and use that as an excuse. Be agitated and restless.

For Katie today, her best years are ahead of her, and there is nothing much to look back on at this time aside from some glorious friendships and escapades, and memorable moments. As we get older, we spend a lot of time looking back over our shoulder with fondness for the good times past, but looking back in business can be a trap that hinders you.

We tend to spend too much of our business time lamenting the past – lost customers, lost projects, regretting the lack of discipline to get things done.  Whatever you did yesterday is gone. It is over. There is nothing you can do about it. The spare change you’ve lost down the back of the sofa yesterday is gone forever.

This tendency to continually and obsessively rehash and analyse the past isn’t helpful, you get lured into constantly looking backward, stuck in your past instead of looking forward and building your future. Live in the business of tomorrow, don’t try and fix what’s broken today, make some new stuff.

Katie will create her fortune by anticipating future trends and envisioning her own ambitions. She knows where she is going and how she is going to get there. Rarely do youngsters rest on their laurels or allow themselves to bask in the security of today, so adopt this attitude to your business.

Your challenge is to lead two businesses, simultaneously – your business of today, and your business of tomorrow. Long-term vision shouldn’t be scuppered by short-sighted, short-term actions, future orientation enables you to stay ahead of the game. I really don’t think that you can ever plan the future by linking it to the past.

We are not here to fear the future, we are here to shape it. The future is always more important than the past, you have to believe this, or why get put of bed in the morning? The future is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned.

Katie has boxes and scrapbooks filled with mementos, clippings, postcard, concert and plane tickets, old letters, and trivia. This memorabilia is great, but if you want your business to succeed, your mind must focus on where you are going, not on where you have been. It would be more productive to make a scrapbook with pictures of where you want your business to go and what you want to be in the future.

So what are the key messages I’m giving to Katie as a new graduate that you could put into your own entrepreneurial business thinking? Here are ten thoughts.

Listen to the voices in your head – what do you mean, you don’t hear voices inside your head, is it just me then? Whatever the voices tell you, trust them and your instinct, and go for it.

Expect a lot from yourself, believe in yourself Don’t let someone else define your agenda, you decide what is possible for you. Dare to believe you can be best, and make it happen. Embrace challenges and setbacks as defining moments, learn from them, use them as springboards.

Don’t care about being right, care about succeeding Steve Jobs used this line in an interview after he was fired by Apple, and I think it’s a great guiding principle for anyone, as a person or business leader.

Chose your attitude Regardless of appearances, no one escapes life without enduring tough moments and cul-de-sacs. The truth is, life is messy and unpredictable. The difference between those who overcome challenges and those who succumb to them is largely one of attitude.

JRR Tolkien’s words in The Hobbit are inspiring about your choosing your attitude for personal or business growth:

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead. Today and tomorrow are yet to be said, The chances, the changes are all yours to make,The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

Be Unique Our world today is full of ‘me 2’, replicas and imitations, so craft a life of originality, novelty and innovation. Conformity to the norm will merely sentence you to mediocrity, who wants to be average, surely that’s just a blank face in the crowd of irrelevance – be the voice that other folks want to listen to.

Life’s too short to go unnoticed – be audacious, but with humility Life is all about progression from good to great, wanting to be with other people, and other people wanting to be with you. Push yourself to be there, at the top table, but never be afraid to wash the pots too.

Leaning back, or leaning forwards, which do you think is the best stance to take? The first thing you need to do is to make others sit up and take notice. Catch their eye, don’t catch a cold stood waiting.

Reach beyond your expectations – a Shackleton quote. Success means different things to different people, and that’s okay, but it’s not other’s definitions you should be concerned with, but your own expectations. As you continue your journey of growth, it’s my hope your sights will shift from the modest pursuit of success to the passionate pursuit of significance.

Live at your Personal Best Following on from the above, in this Olympic year, look into the minds of Beamon, Owens, Lewis, Fosbury, Redgrave and Liddell. Push yourself at every moment, seize the day. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost.

Be a lifelong learner Graduation isn’t the end of learning, just the start. Learning defines the person and is a lifelong endeavour of discovery, improvement and fulfillment. The minute you stop learning is the minute you cede your future and check out on the race with yourself to realise your potential.

Be mindful Mindfulness isn’t just a state of mind, temporary and fleeting, but a real place to be, conscious of living in the moment. Pay attention to the moment, and make it happen. Fantasy of ‘what will be’ is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, but don’t take life too seriously, be happy.

Stay hungry, stay foolish ok, that’s eleven, but the closing lines from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford speech captures a sentiment that seems on the face of it somewhat flippant, however, when you reflect, it’s a statement about keeping your ambition and being adventurous, never taking yourself too seriously, and keeping the zest and attitude of youth.

In addition, Jobs made three other points to the Stanford class, which are worth repeating here and relevant to all entrepreneurs, not just graduates:

  • You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future, so follow your curiosity, intuition and your heart.
  • Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick, but keep going doing the thing you love, that is great work. If you haven’t found it, keep searching until you find it. Keeping looking don’t settle.
  • Live each day as if it is your last, because one day you will be right. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it by living someone else’s life, don’t be trapped by dogma of other people’s thinking, don’t let your own voice be drowned out by other people’s noise. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary

Check out Job’s inspirational speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA

There is a light that never goes out from your time spent at university – Katie, like myself, was made in Sheffield – so keep that alive in your business thinking. The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Ramones’ tee-shirts, bisto and Sheffield 1981-1984: surfing on a wave of nostalgia

From 1981 to 1984 I spent three memorable and formative years in Sheffield as a student, a time with an abundance of experience and learning, a time spent in The Leadmill, The Broomhill Tavern, The Fat Cat, The Punchbowl Inn, The Grindstone, The Frog and Parrot, The Museum, The Beehive, The Limit and, of course, the library.

Last week I reunited for a 30th anniversary, and reconnected a lapsed but still warm friendship with housemates from that bygone era. Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity, but the three years at university are so significant in your development. There’s a certain nostalgia and romance in a place you left, and whilst I don’t think nostalgia is a healthy modality, it’s in us all.

It’s curious the way we get nostalgic for some hoped-for thing that never happened, as if something that never happened were in the past. I know the fog of sadness came over me the days after the reunion, memories re-energised, and a yearning for those good, historical times. But nostalgia and a sense of history are not the same thing, nostalgia is a dysfunction of the historical impulse, or a corruption of the historical impulse. Either way, we re-connected within ten minutes, lost time a thing of the past, literally.

I sallied forth to enrol at the University of Sheffield in 1984, an adventure equal in magnitude to St. Brendan’s C5th voyages of discovery, creeping alone with sinking heart into the university campus was like entering a huge and austere labyrinth to which there was no key. After all, what was the value of my prized ideas and ideals compared with the rumblings of the universe?

Then came the first lecture, given by the diminutive, prematurely grey Professor Tony Lowe in his proportionately diminutive, understated voice. His subject, the philosophy of numbers was quite unpopular, but I just adored it, building on my thirst for pure mathematics. To this day, his insight, passion and laughing remarks about numbers ring in my ears.

No regrets. Twice I ended up in casualty: nearly breaking an ankle in a rugby match and as a result ended up on a drugs trial – pharmaceutical not judicial, and then chinning it down the concrete steps at Crookesmoor late for a tutorial, almost breaking my neck and giving myself concussion. Still made it out that night though, I recall.

Sheffield has an architecturally compressed culture and beauty, and although the time at university lasted just three years, the lure of the academic buildings and culture has always continued with a strong connection for me. As we stumbled across town, each part of Sheffield held some memory for us – ‘on this street corner this happened’ – and the intensity which we all knew of our time at university and the way that it burned brightly but briefly, spending three years of your life on a choice.

When we asked ourselves if we had any regrets about our time here, or any particularly embarrassing highlights, we each remained somewhat coy, but memories of juvenilia and student experience clearly still hold resonance.

Over pasta and beer conversation turned inevitably to reminiscing about our previous Sheffield lives. We talked about people we hadn’t thought about for 30 years – Simon seemingly a collection of failed romances and constant rejection – about days we would always remember and nights out we’d rather forget. We all left feeling a sense of nostalgia for the student days we would never get back. However, it was also great to see how each other’s lives had moved on, the families we now had, working and living in new places.

If I was a student today I would be excited about studying in Sheffield, it’s wonderful they have an Andrew Motion poem, ‘What if?..’ on the side of a building you can see when you leave the railway station. The great thing about Sheffield is the fact it has a village feel and has extensive greenery you don’t find in the likes of Manchester.  One thing about Sheffield I don’t miss are the hills – some are like cliff faces and are completely evil to walk up!

As for our time, it is forever shrinking. Oppressed by our desire to be multitasking and smartphone driven efficiency, we live under a perpetual time pressure. The disease of this millennium will be called chronophobia or speedomania, and its treatment will be embarrassingly old-fashioned. Contemporary nostalgia is not so much about the past, as about vanishing the present. All our yesterdays make your appreciate the value of time spent.

Nostalgia goes beyond individual psychology. At first glance, nostalgia is a longing for a place, but actually it is a yearning for a different time – the time of our student days in this instance, the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time, the time of history and progress. The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into a private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition, is where I’ve ended up after last week.

Onto our Sheffield road trip, first was Broomhill, past the shale football pitches, student eateries and well-meaning fair trade shops. I was delighted to see the Record Collector shop remained. Further down, we stumbled past the Broomhill Tavern a hunting ground for collecting beer mats, and then the Broomhill chippy, home of world-class battered sausages. About turn and onto the number 52 bus to Crookes.

So in 2014, 30 years later, we found myself back at the house we shared. Simon (Genesis), Geoff (Black Sabbath) and me (Joy Division), annoying the neighbours in a typical student terrace house. We ended up with two Firsts and another missed by a viva, subsequently two PhDs and an MBA, now all the downhill side of 50, fathering eight children between us. Not a bad set of outcomes from a raw beginning.

Nothing much had changed apart from some double-glazing, sky dishes and some wheelie bins. It was no longer a student house, it was neat and tidy, well maintained – I have fond memories of my attic bedroom, ice on the inside of the windows. Back on the bus to the city centre, we wandered down Division Street, one of my favourite streets in Sheffield. It’s a sort of Indie Street, with independent stores and boutiques, bars and pubs, second-hand shops, cafes and the odd charity shop.

The day was filled with many hugs, poignant silences, uproar at long-lost moments reencountered, personal moments of reflection, and a tear or two. Wistful recollections of our early friendship seem incongruous until the root of their emotional bond was revealed. Every moment contained elements of the raw, next to each other or even occurring simultaneously, so that truthful observation overlapped with crude caricature, and pieced together story structures yielded moments of considerable emotional force. Nostalgia is a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of what was once in a lifetime. We were talking heads then, and now.

Now with established families, motivated, employed and relatively successful, the day was a flashback to halcyon student days. The present is airy and well-lit, while the past looks dingy and claustrophobic in retrospect, but we all looked back over our shoulders with affection and even gratitude. Time passes like a hand waving from a train you wanted to be on as you stand on the platform. It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were, there are a few moments in your life when you are truly and completely happy, and you remember to give thanks, and we all agreed 1981-1984 was a happy time. Even as it happens you are nostalgic for the moment, you are tucking it away in your scrapbook, I think we’ve all done that. Someone once said, “I don’t have a photograph, but you can have my footprints. They’re upstairs in my socks”, which I think is the best quote about capturing memories you can have.

Our plans for the future made us laugh and feel close, but those same plans somehow made anything more than temporary between us seem impossible.

When you start thinking about what your life was like 30 years ago – and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail – it’s disturbing to realise how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It’s astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all the time but never happen anymore, and never even cross your mind. It’s almost like those things didn’t happen. Or maybe it seems like they just happened to someone else.

I realised that I was at home in my past, there are no days more full than those we go back to, and it was the first time I’d ever had the feeling of missing someone I was still with. In an era of unscratchable touch screens and sleek, perpetually connected devices that seem to smoothen all the edges of the world, I suddenly found myself yearning for the reassuring roughness of the imperfect. Ah, nostalgia, so much to answer for!

Nostalgia, comes from the Greek nostos (to return home) and algo (pain or ache) – hence a longing to return home – was coined by C17th-century Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer as a label for the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. The Kuhreihen, simple melodies played on the horn by Swiss Alpine herdsmen, were banned because it reminded the soldiers of home, although some military doctors believed their problems were specific to the Swiss and caused by the racket of Alpine cowbells!

We can all see the marketing of nostalgia is serious business. In the last couple of years, when the credit crunch squeezed and with uncertainty about the economy, big brands have been marketing nostalgia to remind us of all the good times we used to have, reinforcing their history and heritage, their products’ endurance and quality, their authenticity.

The reason that nostalgia is now being considered as an important emotion by marketers is because it makes us happy. In times or recession or instability nostalgia is effective because when people are feeling down about their situation now, nothing makes them feel better than remembering the happier times in the past. Numerous studies confirm that most consumers really do look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses and an open wallet for any product that can help them recreate it. Products popular during a person’s youth will influence their buying habits throughout their lifetime. That explains my Ramone’s tee-shirt!

Nostalgia can add significant value to brands that have the opportunity to tap into the heritage of the brand, for example the Mini and Fiat 500, the retro styling of digital radio brands etc.  Nostalgic, iconic brands have defined Britain for years, some remain as strong as they were when they were founded: Hovis (1886), Marmite (1902), Brasso (1905), Bisto (1908), to name a few, have all stood the test of time.

Most importantly, it must have an emotional link The word ‘brand’ derives from the Old Norse word brandr meaning to burn, referring to the practice of burning a mark or brand onto cattle to denote ownership. It is this indelible mark in our mind that makes us prefer certain brands.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup is Britain’s oldest brand. Its green and gold packaging has remained almost unchanged since 1885. Research indicates that more than 85% of us immediately recognise the brand. Its original Victorian logo representing a lion and bees, coupled with its biblical quotation out of the strong came forth sweetness, has stood the test of time. It harks back to the great industrial times of the late C19th, a time we respect and value.

Bisto is another example. Trusted, reliable, and found in most kitchen cupboards across the country, the brand has remained in red-brown packaging since it was founded in 1908. An astonishing billion servings are sold each year, which equates to 18,000 tons of the brown powder. Lashings of piping hot gravy is a nostalgic memory for us all, an emotional link utilising its comforting values and association with family gatherings.

One of the most famous examples of ‘advertising nostalgia’ was the mammoth 122-second TV commercial from Hovis.  The advert won the British Television Awards ‘Commercial of the Year’, told the story of a young boy travelling through time charting Britain’s turbulent history over the past 122 years – including the first world war, the suffragette movement, the first motor car, the second world war, the Queen’s coronation in 1953, the swinging 60s, England winning the 1966 World Cup, the 1980s miners’ strike and the millennium celebrations.

But enough wallowing in nostalgia, it can create inertia. I find that the present interests me less and less. The future continues to preoccupy me as a reliable source of excitement, hope and new stuff, but increasingly the present seems to have no outstanding qualities of its own, being merely a waiting-station through which I travel back to the vast shadowlands of the past, or the bright new shiny future.

The Chinese definition of happiness is having someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. I’m happy now as I was in Sheffield, 1981-1984, and as the Buzzcocks sang, About the future I only can reminisce, and although this may sound strange I’m surfing on a wave of nostalgia, for an age yet to come. Ah, nostalgia, Ramone’s tee-shirts, bisto and Sheffield 1981-1984.

Freshers’ Week opens up the life-long learning journey

My daughter Katie starts her Freshers’ Week today, ahead of a three-year BA Business Management degree course at Sheffield University. The serendipity is that she’ll be studying in the same Management School building as me (albeit it’s recently been totally rebuilt), and frequent the same pubs (favourite: The Fat Cat http://www.thefatcat.co.uk) as I did 1981-1984, and latterly on sporadic reunions.

Freshers’ Week is jam-packed with socialising, but while partying is certainly a rite of passage, going to University is not just about the parties. You’ll have a fulfilling few days that will set the tone for the next three years, and it has more to offer new students than a week-long hangover.

Once the car’s been unpacked and the tearful relatives waved off you’ll be an official university student, surrounded by unfamiliar buildings and new faces. If you’re still full of trepidation, reflect on how much you’ve achieved so far and how hard you worked to get there.

The next three years promise to be some of the best of your life. University offers bars, kitchens and corridors for passionate debate and discussion and are a chance to learn about every aspect of life, both academic and social, so try to head off optimistically and explore!

I was nervous when I started university at Sheffield back in 1981. A new life, in a new town, which I had only visited once before. This was my first step on the road to an independent life, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do. It was like standing on the edge of a massive ocean, waiting to dive in. But I look back and I know it was one of the best experiences of my life.

I grew up more than I ever thought possible, both intellectually, socially and emotionally. I had a fair idea of what I want to do with my life, even if I didn’t have a five-point plan. I met some of the best friends I’ve ever made, and still in touch some 30 years later, even if they are 3000 miles away. The Haddock Brains, a Clash-inspired band we formed one day in the library, never did get in the way of future lives in accounting, economics and law – more’s the pity!

I know that those starting university today have to worry about paying £9,000 in tuition fees and fund living out of a totally inadequate maintenance loan. I firmly believe that allowing that level of tuition fees was one of the biggest mistakes of the current government, and a decision that may well be the death knell of Nick Clegg’s political career.

I know that university isn’t for everyone and the government has to invest either in employment or in other means of education and training for young people, but if people want to go to university, they shouldn’t have to risk racking up massive debts in order to do it.

Higher education accessible to all is crucial to the achievement of a fair, free and open society. It helps people gain the skills, knowledge and aspiration to move their life forward, and develops their intellectual capabilities so that they can reach beyond their expectations. It boosts their self-esteem so that they have the confidence to challenge conformity, and ultimately it improves the productivity and innovation of the nation. Above all, it widens people’s horizons and opens up new choices and experiences to them.

Anyway, I’ll step down from my soapbox at the Students Union meeting now! Looking back, what did I learn from my three-years at University? Here are my nuggets of state-funded learning:

Laundry machines aren’t rocket science One of the more daunting aspects of university is the practical side of living alone. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to do laundry. No matter how nice you are to the machines, they are going to growl and they will occasionally swallow your money. There will be several buttons on the dashboard that you never press. Or even understand. Just wash old clothes first and you’ll soon catch on.

Cooking’s a doddle really Similarly, cuisine. It is handy to know how to cook pasta when coming to university, but not essential. In fact, don’t worry if your repertoire doesn’t stretch that far. Mixing odd combinations of food quickly gives you an appreciation of fine food and you find your preferences with ease. Corn beef hash ‘extra’ was my favourite.

Careful with your stuff If you leave your kitchen utensils out on the side, you are saying that these are public property and can be used freely by all in the flat. Whether plates, pots, pans, or the cheese grater, the unwritten code of borrowing states that these can be appropriated by whoever finds the equipment. If you’re slightly OCD about finding your spoons in the same drawer as you left them, or you don’t want to play the ultimate end-of-term treasure hunt to collect said kitchen items from various rooms, you may be best investing in a cupboard lock.

Hair of the dog is not actually a workable solution You will probably be spending an astonishing amount of your time drinking in your first term. That’s fine, as nobody will bat an eyelid, but do remember to take a few nights off. Fun as it can be, not every social activity is improved by alcohol.

Do not leave your work until the absolute last minute This isn’t what you want to hear right now, but amid all the revelry, you do still have a degree to get. As with everything in life, the right work-life balance is up to you, but indulging in too much of either will catch up with you in the end. If you save all your essays up until the last minute, your last two weeks of term are going to be rotten. On the other hand, try not to spend every waking hour in the library fretting about a First until your final year.

You will not have as much sex as you might be hoping for Freshers’ Week, as everyone knows, is a roiling hotbed of constant, regrettable sexual activity. Except, of course, that it’s not. This isn’t San Francisco in 1969 – it’s Sheffield in 2013, and it’s probably raining.

Eat a salad once in a while That sudden switch into a booze-rich lifestyle of intense partying and long lie-ins plays havoc with any previously trim waistline. The freedom of living alone for the first time is also the freedom to devour chips every day. You can limit the damage by eating a salad and getting up off your arse every now and again to walk to a lecture.

Try not to spend your entire loan in the first two weeks You will go out a lot. In fact, you might never party as hard again in your life, but it’s an expensive habit, and costs mount up – even at student union prices. This is probably the first time you’ve ever had thousands of pounds lying around in your bank account, and the temptation to go large will be hard to resist. You owe it to yourself to be sensible. You’ll still have to feed yourself in 10 weeks’ time and you’ve only got bread crusts to toast and that tin of creamed mushrooms left.

But of course, the real reason you’re at University is to continue, if not accelerate, your life long learning journey. Let’s define what learning is. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skill through education and experience. Our ability to learn sets us apart from the animals, which is handy really as according to genetics we share 98.5% of our genes with chimpanzees. Perhaps this is not such a significant matter – but we also share about 60% of our genes with tomatoes!

Every piece of learning you do to reinvent and update your knowledge allows you to grow from where you are today to where you want to go. Learning is beneficial emotionally, financially, physically and socially. You can’t open a book without learning something. I’ve always been minded by the Thomas Huxley quote: try to learn something about everything and everything about something.

Learning is my passion and it’s something that impacts me nearly every day. I am constantly reading about new things, taking cuttings from magazines, spending hours browsing on the Internet or expounding on existing knowledge. I just want to stay ahead of the game. Some of this I am fortunate to do as it pays me for a living, but even when I am not learning, I am applying skills or knowledge, even if it is just playing chess or a Sudoku puzzle, in order to exercise my mind.

Learning is the key to achieving our full potential, recognising that lifelong learning is a journey with no end in sight and that no one can ever have all the answers – although Katie will tell you I sometimes try to bluff that I do. In order for you to create the new results you want in your life, learning is a path you must be willing to take. It provides the opportunities to continually expand your capacity. When you change your thoughts your change your results.

But back to Katie, and Sheffield. My degree was in Accounting & Maths – I was obsessed with numbers, so the degree was a real passion. In Freshers’ week in 1981 I recall eating pizza for the first time, discovering Theakston’s Old Peculiar at the aforementioned Fat Cat, meeting a bloke called Anders from Norway who got homesick and went back home after just a week, joining the university rugby club which had a ladies team, and falling in love with an American Economist called Paul A. Samuelson. I hope Katie has a similar fulfilling experience – and I hope Samuelson’s Economics is still on the curriculum reading list! http://www.economist.com/node/15127616

University can teach you life skills and gives you opportunity, but it can’t teach you sense, nor give you understanding. Sense and understanding are produced within your own reflection and when I get some sense I’ll let you know. University unlocked my appetite for learning, the opportunity it offered was the thrill of great clarity wrestling with the endless problems and delights of standing on the shoulder of giants.

After three-years, I graduated, and at the graduation ceremony wearing a daft hat and gown, unrolled my degree scroll displaying a long declaration in Latin affixed with a red seal proclaiming me a Bachelor of Arts with Honours. Imagine working for three years to obtain a piece of paper I could hardly read.

As I stare down the barrel of my thirtieth anniversary of graduation in 2014, Katie, I’m almost jealous, and the brilliant three years you have ahead of you. Make the most of it. Welcome to Sheffield. Welcome to university. Welcome to learning. You’re going to love it. It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts, and remember, learning never exhausts the mind but dancing in the Students Union until 4am will.