Supporter and friend of IIT Institute of Design, Mats Lederhausen formed BE-CAUSE in early 2007 as a platform for investing and building businesses with a “purpose bigger than their products®.” This philosophy is based on the idea that brands that have a strong conviction around why they exist and who they exist to serve will end up attracting better employees and more loyal customers and, ultimately, be more successful.
On May 17, 2015, Mats Lederhausen delivered a commencement speech congratulating graduates on earning their degree and calling on them to be leaders committed to making the world better.
Dear Class of 2015. Let me be one of the first to congratulate you on this very special day.
Obviously, you deserve to be celebrated simply because the fact that you are sitting here means you have invested thousands of hours and made endless sacrifices to accumulate the necessary experiences, skills, and credits to earn this impressive degree. But to me, an even more important reason to celebrate you is that you had the foresight and the insight to select the field of human-centered design as your vocation.
Let me also pay special tribute to all the parents in the audience. Apart from the rather self-evident fact that there would be no graduates without parents and for the endless support you have given your offspring during their journey here, there is another reason to salute you.
You have withstood the dubious pleasure of having to explain to countless friends what on earth your children are studying. Yes, you knew that they were working hard. Or at least they told you so. But did you believe them? Really? But let there be no doubt. The work of these designers is as difficult to explain as it is important to propagate. They have to uncover behavioral patterns not understood, build bridges between current reality and future opportunities, and live in ambiguity that most people can’t tolerate, let alone master.
We live in emotionally contradictory times. On the one hand, the opportunities that our technological revolution make possible are so vast and so incredible that it is impossible not to be optimistic about our future. Never before has the world’s accumulated knowledge been available, almost for free, to just about everyone. Knowledge is power and access to this power has until recently been concentrated to a very small part of mankind.
With the Internet, mobile telephony, and the exponential improvements in computing power and bandwidth, almost the entire world can now participate in crowd solving our most pressing problems facing us. How can that not be a reason for optimism?
But at the same time we are facing a leadership deficit. People are increasingly frustrated with the irrelevancy and impotency of the organizations around us. Or as Jean Houston once said:
“We yearn for meaning and deal with trivia. We are swept in currents over which we have no control. Government has become too big for the small problems of life and too small in spirit for the large ones.”
Many organizations are stuck in the past. Education, healthcare, politics, and business, as well as other important institutions in our lives, are struggling to change as fast as the world around them. They are blinded by their own habits. They can’t see further than their own budgets, election cycles, or quarterly earnings. This has produced a short-term world with long-term problems. And it is precisely here where you come in, and also why I believe the field of design is going to have a remarkable future.
Designers unlock paralysis. Designers zoom out before they zoom in. They use different methods and wear different glasses than regular business folks, doctors, or politicians. With your different toolbox, your humble approach, and your quiet, disciplined demeanor, you have the ability to connect a promising tomorrow with a troubled today. Designers recognize that you can’t go from here to there. You can’t build tomorrow starting today unless you first know what kind of tomorrow you want.
Strategy has always been about the commitment of present resources to future expectations. The problem is that we have confused qualities with quantities. Since what does not get counted doesn’t count, bigger has become our proxy for better. But bigger isn’t always better, is it?
I think you know the answer. It isn’t. Better is always better. Sometimes bigger is better. Sometimes smaller is better, like when designing for budget deficits, commuting distances, carbon emissions and disease. Just to mention a few.
Again, being schooled in the Bauhaus tradition of design, you are trained with a human sensibility brought to industrial function. You have the tools to imbed and include human qualities in the calculus of our future.
Many institutions seem to believe that their purpose is to primarily serve themselves. They argue that when their interest is maximized, benefits will trickle down to people outside. But leadership is never about you. It is never about your own interest. It is always about serving something bigger than yourself. That is true for people, for organizations, and for nations. The core of leadership is always about qualities. Never about quantities. Quantities can be a way to achieve qualities, but never the other way around.
My dreams for you and for this world, therefore, go hand in hand.
I see a future where almost every organization of significance hires designers like you to help them find their path to a better future. You will help them lift their gaze and look out further—and look beyond self. You will help them discover to what end they exist and what purpose they have that is bigger than their products. But you will also make sure that this vision becomes a reality by assuring they invest in the right platforms, in the right bridges, in the right sequence, and in the right way.
Nothing is more tragic than big, bold, well-funded visions with bad plans. It’s such a wasted opportunity, one that we really can’t afford. And there are many people with great ideas and strong visions for how they can bring new solutions to our communities. They need you to be their pragmatic idea shepherds, the people who can unpack big ideas to practical small realities that can later be brought to scale.
Without you along their side, many ideas will simply be lost at the level of vision because they were never executed at the level of detail.
The time has come. The time has come to raise the bar. The time has come to lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves. The time has come to dream big and use design principles to act smart, so that hope isn’t about words but rather about real, planned progress. Delivered. The time has come to make our technologies elevate our humanity and be in service of our desires. The time has come to convert the challenges of the present with the promises of our future.
So to you, graduating class of 2015, I ask you not to settle. I ask you not to just take a job. Take a mission. Dream big. Start small. I ask you to never agree to just make things pretty or bigger but to commit your life to making things better. Use the invaluable gifts you have honed to lead us to the incredible human potential that we all know is waiting to be unlocked. You’ve just been given the key. Now go use it.
Congratulations to you, your families, and to the world of tomorrow!
More about Mats Lederhausen
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Mats Lederhausen began his career with McDonald’s in 1979 as a part-time crew member in Sweden, eventually becoming the managing director and joint venture partner for McDonald’s Sweden. Under his leadership, the company grew from 40 restaurants to nearly 170 restaurants. In 1999 joined McDonald’s Corporation as head of global strategy and later played a key role in shaping the agenda that helped McDonald’s complete one of the most successful corporate turnarounds in recent history.
Named one of Crain’s Chicago Business’ “40 under 40” in 1999 and honored by the World Economic Forum in 2000 as a “Global Leader of Tomorrow,” Mats serves as chairman of the board of ROTI Mediterranean Grill and Educate Inc. (Sylvan Learning), serves as chairman of the board for the not-for-profit Business for Social Responsibility, and serves on the board of trustees of Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Mats received a master’s degree from the Stockholm School of Economics.