Speech by W. Brett Wilson

Still Making Mistakes

The commencement address to the graduands of Royal Roads University in appreciation of the bestowing of an Honorary Doctorate upon W. Brett Wilson. 

I am delighted beyond words to be here with you today. Partly because of logistics - I did leave Mumbai only yesterday - after one week in Afghanistan touring with our Canadian Military and two weeks of trekking in India - but I am largely delighted to be here because of the incredible honor this recognition offers to me and my journey. 

Now to formalities - good afternoon Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, graduating students, ladies and gentlemen. And a special shout out to a few folks from Saskatchewan who have joined me today - including my father - Bill Wilson - who was as surprised about this honor as I was - given that he is among the privileged few to know that in my 4th year Engineering studies - I failed Reinforced Concrete Part 2 not once but twice!  

I am very aware of Royal Roads' legacy - as a great military school - and now as it moves forward with a close association with both the military and the community at large.  I am especially appreciative and respectful of your school motto - "Living Our Learning" - and I promise to continue to live the personal oath I took when I finally graduated engineering school - and that was "I will never design a concrete structure larger than a bale of hay."

I have been asked to provide ten minutes give or take of "inspirational" conversation - which I am keen to do - once I answer the question that is burning deep within many of you - "Is Kevin O'Leary really that nasty?" 

The answer - Yes.  And - No.  To clarify - he is someone I really do enjoy working with - a great sense of humor and extremely bright - but not really someone whose chosen public persona or brand I want to align closely with.  Poking fun at my social conscience - Kevin sometimes suggests that I add a teardrop to each dollar I invest.  In retort - I have been known to suggest he is the "moronic outlier of capitalism" - truly one of a kind.  We do really enjoy each other both on and off the studio set.  And I do appreciate that the combination of both nasty Kevin and friendly Brett apparently makes for good to great television - but as you will understand if you have followed my way of working, thinking, giving, doing - that there usually isn't room for both of us in a business deal!

Ok enough on the fantasy world of reality TV - let's roam into the reality of the real world.  You are graduating. You now know everything. Or almost everything. Or at least you know more than a few years ago - ok - at least you know everything that you can remember!

In the time available I want to share my perspective that choices and mistakes are the essence of life - that together choices and mistakes really do define your future...

Let me start with choices.  I vividly recall watching a scene in a Harry Potter movie - The Chamber of Secrets - a number of years ago.  I remember Harry and his side kick Ron basically saving the world by breaking the rule about not going into the dungeon or cave below the boy's washroom and then slaying the vicious beast and the maniacal Voldemort.  What was most memorable for me was the line used by the elderly headmaster Dumbledore when he was admonishing the boys - in an almost admiring way.  He chastised them for breaking the school's rules - but summarized with "Men are not known by their abilities - they are known by their choices".  This resonates for me when I reflect on the turning points in my life - and the fact that many could do anything I have done - but my life - my journey - is uniquely mine because of the combination of choices I have made - both good and bad.

Now as to mistakes - I am working on a book currently entitled "Redefining Success in a Wealth Obsessed World" - with the subtitle - which nearly caused my agent a heart attack - of "Still Making Mistakes".  I am not ashamed of the reality that I am still making mistakes - hopefully fewer with time - hopefully not repeating many too often - hopefully learning from them as I go.  The key point I want to press here is that for me - making mistakes is the precursor of success in every aspect of my life.  In fact not being afraid of making mistakes - the courage to face life as it comes - has been a choice I was able to make as I stumbled through adversity - from marital breakdown, to depression, to business and partnership failures, to cancer and addiction treatment - a ton of mistakes and a ton of learning.

I am fond of quoting - "the ability to make wise choices comes from experience - but experience comes from making mistakes." Now let me gather my thoughts in another way - by describing a few mistakes I encourage you to avoid - knowing they might be coming your way.

  1. Please don't make the mistake of falling into the trap of defining success by material wealth, celebrity, accomplishment or power. I have been down each of those paths - and while fun for a while - they are superficial, lonely and not terribly rewarding. Success defined by the size of the car, the office or the wallet is fleeting. Success defined by the size of the smile - as a measure of happiness - can be the foundation or essence of a rewarding life.
  2. Please don't make the mistake of running through life without stopping regularly to set - and even reset - priorities and action plans to align with those priorities. Just as a great lumberjack stops to sharpen his saw - we need to stop to reload in life - for our sake - and for the sake of those around us. Post my time in an addiction treatment program in the spring of 1999 - I sorta took time to look at my priorities. Post diagnosis with cancer a couple of years later - I then really took the time to establish clear priorities. My own very simple set of six Life Priorities is now as follows: i) Health - all aspects of my health - emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual - since without all of these on track - life isn't going to be as much fun as it should be; ii) Family - I really encourage everyone to take the time to walk in the shoes of others in their family lives - you don't chose your family - but you do chose how you treat them - and how you respond to them. If things aren't quite what they could be in terms of family - try again. Try harder. But do draw a line at some point; iii) Friends - for me - friends are the essence of life - friendships do vary with time and people - you already know that the more you give the more you get. You don't need a lot of friends - but you do need a few good friends. Remember that friendship is a two way street; iv) Education - more on this later - I think education must be in integral aspect of your life journey for life to be meaningful and engaging; v) Career - whatever you chose to pay the mortgage - to make your mark outside the home - has to follow the other priorities I have just listed - and yes - your career can consume a lot of time and energy - but don't let it consume you; vi) Community - yes - this is last - I love what I do in terms of charity and community - but yes it has to rank last in a simple list of priorities for me - as the others need to be properly organized for me to be effective in each. These priorities get blended by demanding attention almost every waking hour of your life - but having a clearly defined set of priorities will help you allocate your time in a way that is best for you.
  3. Please don't make the mistake of turning down or slowing down the learning curve - or forget that you can influence the next generation and those around you with learning - and teaching. My pet project - trying to convince schools, institutes and universities to include three courses - in an age appropriate way - into the core curriculum of each educational program - to allow us to generate a new caliber of student. My list? i) Marketing - I really believe you don't have a business of any kind without getting the order - closing the sale - sure you can make "it" - but if you can't sell "it" - so what? Understanding the value of brand, goodwill and the purchasing decision making process is an invaluable competitive advantage over others - even when it comes to preparing your own resume and business card; ii) Entrepreneurship - the great debate - are entrepreneurs born or are they made? I am here to share the answer - YES! There is no question some people or cultures are pre-disposed to seeking out entrepreneurial opportunities - but I fundamentally believe that entrepreneurs are not thrill seeking risk takers - but rather - by virtue of their experiences - they simply view risk differently. Studying examples and experiences of great Canadian entrepreneurs can plant seeds that will bear fruit decades later. Dragons Den is planting the seeds that tell a generation of our youth that regardless of their "vocation/education" - they too could be in business someday for themselves; and iii) Philanthropy - for me this is a world of great opportunity - the world of charity/community/giving - what ever you call it. I take exception with the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility - as I think that anything we do out of a sense of obligation or responsibility is done without the passion or enthusiasm that comes with seeing something as an opportunity. I do fundamentally believe that giving back is an opportunity - an opportunity to change the world you and your family live in - to improve the brand of your business - to invest in the future. Period. Should giving be altruistic? What act or action is truly altruistic? How do we foster and feed a social conscience? Why do we transfer any wealth? Why not distribute wealth while we are living? All questions without simple answers - and all worth discussing at every stage of life.

Ok - to conclude - you know I have a book coming - you could google me to find videos on my core life and business messages -  but you can skip the book and googling me if you were really listening today - in essence - my core messaging is very simple - remember its all about choices - and not being afraid of making mistakes - in fact embrace mistakes as they accelerate your learning curve - and lead to better choices.

As you leave Royal Roads - I remind you of J.R.Tolkiens' quote that I encourage everyone to respect - "not all those that wander are lost." 

I encourage you to always seek to answer the question - what can I do with my knowledge, my network, my passion - basically my choices - to meet the worlds greatest needs? 

I promise you that no matter your skill set or abilities - it will be your willingness to believe in yourself - to bet on you - that will literally change your world and thus our world one small but meaningful step at a time.

Thank you again for the wonderful honor of this recognition - I am proud to be associated with Royal Roads University - and in particular the Graduating Class of Fall 2010.

W. Brett Wilson
October 26th, 2010