What does it take to succeed—in college, at work, with family and friends—in 2017? 

Hard work, passion, commitment,  generosity toward others, empathy—these timeless virtues have always enabled achievement.

But other skills for success can vary depending on the characteristics of the time in which we live.


One hundred years ago, physical power and stamina were important skills for an industrial era economy.   More recently the information age rewarded logical reasoning, effective oral and written communication, quantitative analysis.  

Today we work in a new period of unprecedented technological invention, acceleration and disruption.  This 4th industrial revolution equips each of us with more information on this phone than the President of the United States possessed a generation ago.   

It enables medical miracles, empowers dissidents and freedom fighters around the world, accelerates funding for important causes to make things better.  

It is transforming how products are made and bought, flights are booked, & music and movies are enjoyed.   How we defend our nation, drive, date, shop, connect with friends and family are all changing.  


This ongoing revolution in technology has important implications for our careers:   There will be amazing new opportunities for individuals who can invent, build and deliver critical products and services in new ways.  Content creators will have more options.   Musicians and artists used to need to be “discovered”.  Today thanks to youtube and other sites, they can spend a lot more time being artists.   

But what presents golden opportunities for some will threaten others.   In 2004, Blockbuster’s annual revenue was $6 billion, while Netflix had $500 million in annual revenue.  How many students in this room have ever visited a Blockbuster video store?   The company is bankrupt, while Netflix approaches $9 billion in revenue.

Blockbuster and so many other once iconic companies and industries are being disrupted by this revolution.   Just as manufacturing workers were replaced by automation and outsourcing, today every industry and company faces technological disintermediation.   

Ask drivers, grocers, doctors & nurses, lawyers, accountants, investment bankers-- all face technological competition, and in many cases, replacement.   If they don’t know it yet, they will soon.

What will it take to seize the opportunities and anticipate the risks from this 4th industrial revolution?  What you know and how hard you work will still matter-- probably more than ever.   But at a time of accelerating change and disruption, success today will also depend on resilience-- the ability to rebound and reinvent.  

Rewards will go to those of us able to regularly reinvent ourselves and our careers—re-think what we do, re-examine how our knowledge and skills can solve problems and overcome challenges, and re-imagine new products and services based on this thinking.

Over the past decade, innovative scholars and thinkers have analyzed the personal qualities of individuals who overcome substantial obstacles. 


  • Angela Duckworth identifies an empowering blend of passion, persistence, and optimism that she calls “grit.” 

  • Carol Dweck points to a “growth mindset” in high achievers that embraces challenges rather than fearing failure.  

  • Malcolm Gladwell’s classic David & Goliath profiles high-impact leaders for whom what appear to be setbacks or disabilities also unleash powerful coping and adaptive mechanisms that enable subsequent world-beating success.

Folks whose childhood was disrupted by poverty, illness or other obstacles can be fortified by those challenges.   Maybe they are better at coping and adapting.   Or they develop grit, persistence and resilience.  After all, you get good at adapting, reinventing, and persisting by adapting, reinventing and persisting.

At Franklin & Marshall College, we have seen these extraordinary qualities first-hand.  Every year we witness incredible achievers who overcome poverty, discrimination, stigma, and even trauma on their determined climb.   And their success isn’t in spite of their obstacles.   Their grit, persistence, optimism and reinventing skills are unleashed and enhanced because they learned to cope with and adapt to these challenges.


To succeed in this disruptive era, each of us also will need to anticipate and exploit the impacts of change missed or ignored by conventional thinkers.  Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Harold Hamm.   He was one of the first people to foresee the energy revolution that has remade the world this past decade.

Hamm saw the potential to use technology to extract oil and natural gas found in shale rock all over the world.   Everyone knew it was there.  But they couldn’t harvest it.  Hamm pioneered the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract and produce these deposits.   

When Harold went to the biggest, most established energy companies, they laughed him out of the room.  They didn’t believe it could be done.


How many of you have read the book or seen the film, “The Big Short”?  It’s about people just like Hamm in the financial services sector:  outsiders who rejected the conventional wisdom, doubted the smart guys at the big banks with the nice suits and the conventional mindsets.   The smart money said that housing prices would keep going up.

But these nonconformists knew better.  They anticipated the disaster that would result from the housing bubble, but they were derided when they warned what was coming.

What do you call Harold Hamm and these investors who anticipated the housing crash today? --Billionaires.   


Where do you get the mind & perspective of an outsider?  Maybe from the same places you develop grit and learn to adapt. When you grow up in a place where most folks haven’t gone to college—but you will, where many don’t appreciate the importance of education—but you relish learning, you’re already marching to your own drummer.  You’ve embraced different perspective.  

Several years ago, our College resolved to be a better institution—to recruit better students, and to serve our nation even better—by attracting broader pools of high-achieving students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.  Under Dan Porterfield’s awesome leadership, we expanded the proportion of incoming students eligible for Pell Grants — most of them also the first in their families to go to college —from 5 % for the Class of 2012 to 19 % for the Class of 2020. The Washington Post hailed our efforts as a "recruiting revolution" and PBS's The News Hour highlighted F&M as a national model "that more colleges need to follow."

These efforts have brought more talent to our campus.  They’ve also equipped hundreds of smart and capable strivers with the skills to enrich the whole F&M community.   All of us learn better with these new classmates and friends.   And equal opportunity has become not just a catchword but a reality for hundreds of families across our country.

The Mehlman Talent Initiative is intended to build on this work—to equip these students with even more tools to flourish and succeed.   And to help the rest of us learn from their experiences and work. 


Starting with the 10 men and women who I am so proud to call Mehlman Scholars, over the next 4 years we will work with 40 very special F&Mers who have prevailed over challenging life circumstances to identify teaching and mentoring tools and techniques that will help them and similarly situated students translate perseverance, optimism, grit and a passion for learning into high academic achievement and lifetime success.     

This isn’t just important to enhance the F&M experience for those who have risen above the most challenging circumstances.  Each of us can learn from folks who have already reinvented themselves, students who are here because they possess grit or think differently.  Each semester for the next 4 years, we will organize sessions like today where we can learn from one another and from outside experts.  

But these sessions can’t be the only place we learn these critical skills.  In addition to re-invention and thinking differently, there’s another key to success in this disruptive era.   This is the iPhone 6.  I need to get my iPhone 7 soon.  Why are we on version 7?   

Because users around the world constantly tell Apple how to make the I Phone better.  Products and services grow and improve when they benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, not just decisions by engineers, product designers or people in the C suite.   Continuous improvement requires consistent feedback, ideally from the largest possible audience.   

So, for this project to work, we need your help.  Everyone participating in this talent initiative—and each of us who has or will experience obstacles, setbacks and challenges, and that’s all of us—has an obligation to learn from these experiences.  And share what we learn.  

When you don’t do as well as you had hoped on a test, ask your professor for advice about how you can do better.   Write down ideas for better study habits.   

If you play on one of our teams and you come up short in a game or match, train harder and smarter; ask the coach for his or her ideas.   Engage classmates who have overcome poverty or discrimination or anything else—and examine how these challenges have equipped them with more grit, or higher EQ, or better perspective.

One hundred years ago, the future belonged to the strong & fast.   Over the last generation, first place went to those who were clever & articulate.  Tomorrow will require all of us to adapt, anticipate and reinvent.  The greatest success will come to those with these qualities.  

Ben Franklin anticipated this day when he said:  “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”  This new initiative will help F&M realize the mission of our namesake:  to build lives around constant progress and re-invention by helping and learning from our classmates and friends who have already traveled the furthest to get here.