He doesn’t have a campus parking pass even though he certainly could. Why? Because that way he is forced to park way up the hill and then climb it at the end of the day. A fixture in the International Environmental Policy program, professor Jeff Langholz is nothing if not systematic in his approaches to life’s challenges. He generously shares his systems with students and colleagues, and is tireless in his efforts to inspire others.
Career gut checks are good.
Every now and then, an opportunity arises to join the faculty at a big research university or jump to a for-profit business. The higher salary, lower housing costs, great sports teams, and other perks can be tempting. Such opportunities force me to look deep within, asking if I’m in the right place. The Institute always comes out on top, and I feel it each time with greater conviction. Ironically, the more chances I get to leave, the greater my commitment to stay.
Play out the deathbed scenario.
When I play out the deathbed scenario, wondering if I managed to do anything good in life, I want to know I leveraged life for the greatest good. For me at least, maximizing my career lifetime impact entails three things: working internationally instead of just domestically, focusing on policies that affect millions of people rather than just on individual projects, and training thousands of students to go out and do international policy instead of doing it myself. No place offers this “triple leverage” better than MIIS.
Unlock the keys to peak performance.
I’m known for, or notorious for, my collection of tip sheets. I researched keys to peak performance in public speaking, writing, publishing, getting a Fulbright, landing your dream job, working in teams, getting accepted into a top PhD program, and many other topics. Then I wrote the results as short “best practices” guides. I try to be a curator of excellence. Life’s too short, and the world’s challenges are too great, to waste time reinventing the wheel or settling for mediocrity.
Learn to give great speeches.
An example of unlocking the keys to excellence is number seven in my series of Graduate School of International Policy and Management tip sheets: “How to Give a Superb Oral Presentation in GSIPM or Anywhere Else.” Social scientists have identified several keys to a great speech, one that audiences will remember for months or years to come. When a student delivers a 10-minute presentation in one of my classes, he or she must implement an entire list of 38 empirically based best practices. Instead of falling asleep, the audiences are enthralled. Their enthusiastic applause says it all.
I can’t believe they pay me to do this!
I found my dream job the hard way. It took many years and much trial and error. To speed things up for our students, I researched and wrote “Careers by Design,” the proven methodology for MIIS students to identify and land their dream jobs. We don’t want our students to struggle after graduation or settle for mediocre careers. We want them to be on fire. We want them in jobs that offer their ideal location, compensation, lifestyle, and other key attributes. Based on examples from our most successful students, it really boils down to just a few key things.
Learn the secrets to innovation.
The world needs innovators, and we love to produce them at MIIS. The first step is to emphasize that innovation is a learned skill, not an innate ability. If you look at the greatest innovations over the past 200 years, they tend to follow seven main pathways, or techniques. My personal favorite is a technique called “exaptation,” which has roots in evolutionary biology. One student used exaptation to predict the location of Osama bin Laden two years before the U.S. military found him hiding there. Another used exaptation to launch a market-based solution to California’s water crisis. Bottom line: If you want to create game-changing, breakthrough innovations, start by mastering “exaptation” and other best practices.
It is not about being an expert.
I am not an expert in any of this. All I do is study. I do the diagnostics and look at the evidence and then create a guide by working backward from the ultimate goal.
The heart stuff is important.
Like a lot of professors, I focus most of my time and effort on students; they are the reason I’m here. Much of what I do emphasizes academic pursuits, equipping my students with concrete skills and knowledge for success. When our graduates go out and do great things in the world, we share in that success. Over the years, however, I’ve found that it’s the personal relationships that provide the most joy. I love getting cards, letters, and emails from our alumni, especially ones expressing gratitude. I keep a collection of them in my office. These human connections count most.
Keep trying and learning.
I’m an expert at failure. In fact, a few years ago I made a conscious decision to increase not only the rate of my failures, but also the size. I would take more risks and bigger risks. Failing now and then means I’m living boldly, pushing the envelope in personal and professional areas. Failure has also been a stupendous teacher. In fact, I follow Ray Dalio’s practice of developing a guiding principle learned from each failure.