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  • Writer's pictureAnderson Petergeorge

The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch


The Last Lecture is a New York Times best-selling book co-authored by Randy Pausch —a professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The book speaks on a lecture Pausch gave in September 2007 entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams". A month before giving the lecture, Pausch had received a prognosis that the pancreatic cancer, with which he had been diagnosed a year earlier, was terminal

  • You got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff is not going to work

  • Quote: "When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you"

  • Being a good leader is not having skills better than your subordinates but acknowledge they know what they were doing in their own domain. A good leader establishes vision, tone and is in charge of morale

  • Remember to always frame things positively even when giving bad news to lessen the impact

    • Example: Disney employees answering: "When do you close?” with, "We are open until 8pm" and not using the negative word "close".

  • Being raised in a frugal family allowed Randy and his siblings to appreciate things in life a lot more

    • Example: Randy appreciating his visit to the circus more even though he only went once, given it was such a rare event

  • Quote: “Raise a family that constantly tries to solve answers to questions“

    • Example: Randy's family had a dictionary by their dinner table to refer to during any questions they had during meals

  • Have something to bring to the table, which will make you more welcomed to participate in things

    • Example: Randy telling NASA all the media attention they would get by allowing him to test the zero-gravity simulation, which allowed him to bypass the rules and be a part of the experiment

  • Try and work with people very different than you to gain new perspectives

    • Example: Randy creating one of the first “Technology & Arts” class with a drama professor at Carnegie Mellon despite their different backgrounds and different working styles ended up creating one of the best courses at the university

  • Strong team bonding helps create strong team projects

    • Example: Measured in Randy's class by virtual world projects, the teams that seemed the closest during presentation day usually did the best

  • Anytime spent whining is time not spent achieving your goals

    • Try and be like Jackie Robinson, who didn’t complain despite all the racist remarks he got playing baseball and was able to achieve a lot by letting his actions speak for him

  • Tips to work together as a group properly:

    • Meet people properly: Exchange contact information and make sure you pronounce everyone's names

    • Find things you have in common: this makes it easier to address issues where you have differences

    • Try for optimal meeting conditions: Avoid meeting when people are hungry, cold or tired. Food is known to soften meetings

    • Check egos at the door: when you discuss ideas, label them and write them down but label them based on the idea not the originator

    • Praise each other: Forces you to look at silver linings in all situations

    • Phrase alternatives as questions: Instead of "I think we should do A over B". Frame it "What do you think about doing A instead of B?". Allows people to offer comments as oppose to defending their choice

  • In order to know what people are really like, don’t focus as much as on what people say but pay more attention to what they do

  • Time must be explicitly managed like money

    • Quote: “It doesn’t matter how well you polish the underside of the banister”

  • Quote: “You can always change your plan, but only if you have one”

  • Break down your to do lists into tangible steps to make them more useful and effective

  • Always ask yourself: Are you spending your time on the right things?

    • Is what you currently pursuing worth it?

    • Example: A pregnant lady protesting that the construction noise in her building is harming her unborn child while smoking a cigarette. She’s clearly not spending her time right if she wants to protect her child

  • Develop a good filing system - it’ll save you a lot of time and stress

  • Delegate tasks, it allows those you delegate to feel more satisfied and involved in the project/task

  • Be willing to give constructive feedback to people because that is what will cause them to change and improve

Clichés to Remember

  • Dance with the one who brings you, a reminder about loyalty and appreciation

  • Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

  • “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” A reminder not to focus on little issues, while ignoring the major ones

  • Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted

    • Reminder that failure is not just acceptable, it's often essential

  • When asking long-married couples how they were able to stay together. They all said the same thing, "they worked hard at it".

  • Try and show gratitude through offering an experience vs a material good as it is much more memorable for people

    • Randy taking his students to Disneyland after he got tenure and the numerous letters they sent him throughout his life thanking him for that memory

  • Send a small token of appreciation when you ask for something

    • Randy sending thin mint cookies when he asked people to review his research papers and he never had to follow up with people to do them since they always saw the box and it reminded them

  • Halfhearted or insincere apologies are often worse than not apologizing at all because recipients find them insulting

  • Remember a quick cost to improve the mood of a situation can have long-term benefits

    • Example: Randy and his sister breaking their $10 gift for their parents at Disneyland immediately after they bought it. The store replaced it for free and quickly improved the mood of Randy and his sister. This created a positive image of the whole experience for both Randy and his parents that they ended up spending over $100,000 in their lifetime in Disneyland tickets for themselves and others.

  • Always remember to try and ask for things. The worst you can get is no

    • Example: Randy asking to meet to the head of computer science early in his career is what led to him having this head as a strong mentor in his life. It also allowed him and his family to ride in the front cart at Disneyland which was his dad's dream, at no additional cost.

  • Quote from Randy’s former professor “If you are a good salesman you might as well sell something that serves good in the world like teaching”


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