Usually when you hear that someone graduated from Stanford University, it’s because they had a clearly pre-defined educational path with set goals. That wasn’t the case for Rich Karlgaard. In fact, he easily admits that he barely graduated from Stanford.
“I was a dishwasher. I was a security guard, things like that, wondering why I wasn’t able to blossom,” Karlgaard says. “There’s nothing wrong with those jobs, unless you’re capable of doing more. And I was capable of doing more. I just couldn’t find a way to demonstrate it.”
It wasn’t until age 27 that Karlgaard found his true calling while working as a typist at a research institute in Palo Alto, California. There, some of the engineers and scientists gave him the opportunity to try his hand at editing a few technical papers, and his career as a writer and editor was born.
From that point, Karlgaard went on to achieve many professional milestones. He served as an editorial assistant at Runner's World magazine, created a Silicon Valley business network, the Churchill Club, with a partner, received an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1997, founded Upside magazine with that same colleague, and later started Forbes ASAP magazine along with Steve Forbes and George Glider.
In 1998, Karlgaard was named publisher of Forbes magazine, and wrote the biweekly column, Innovation Rules, known for its witty and honest assessment of current business issues. Today, the 28-year-veteran of Forbes magazine serves as the publication’s editor-at-large.
The self-proclaimed futurist has also written four books (including Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement), and is a paid speaker, lecturer, investor, and advisor at the Forbes School of Business and Technology® at the University of Arizona Global Campus.
Karlgaard will be reflecting on all of his past and current successes during his keynote address at Ashford University's* 2020 Virtual Commencement Ceremony on October 11. In advance of the event, we sat down with Karlgaard for an exclusive Q&A session. Read on to get more insight into his career and advice for the graduating class.
Ashford: You achieved quite a bit at a young age. Why do you consider yourself a late bloomer?
Karlgaard: Late Bloomers was a very personal book for me because I felt that sense of being a high school kid that was just not measuring up to what I felt I was capable of academically or in sports or anything else. I consider myself a late bloomer because I was totally ill-equipped to think like an adult, take on adult responsibilities, think about consequences about what I did. None of that began to click for me until I was in my late 20s. When it began to click in, I began to make progress in my adult life and my career. Being a late bloomer helped motivate me, once everything began to click for me, then I was always motivated by the fact that I didn’t want to go back where I was.
Ashford: Can someone bloom more than once?
Karlgaard: People can also be serial bloomers. They can bloom more than once, they can learn more than one thing, they can launch more than one career, and you find that over the course of life (I’ve done a lot of research around brain development, a lot of research around how psychology changes over a lifetime), we are inclined to be better at some things when we are young, we are inclined to be better at some things when we are middle age, and we are inclined to be better at some things when we are older.
Ashford: What business advice do you have for the 2020 graduates?
Karlgaard: For people coming into the economy today, you need to put in your graduation toolkit two instruments: a microscope and a telescope. These are two hugely valuable tools. The microscope is you are going to get down into the small details, whatever you decide to commit yourself to, and learn as much as you can. And learn in great detail so you can be that go-to person in your company because of your knowledge. You always need a microscope because you’re always learning new things. The world is changing — technology is changing.
The telescope is being able to picture yourself in the larger world and how your desire to make a difference and how your desire to earn a living fits in to where the world is headed and what it wants. If you’ve got your head down in a microscope all the time, the world can change on you, and you might miss it. If you’re at a company and you’ve got a really good microscope that’s allowed you to master some small part of what your employer does, but you don’t have a telescope to see what the company’s larger goals are and how they fit into the economy and society, then you will get stuck in your microscopic position. You won’t be able to move up.
The telescope is really learning. That’s where being really a voracious consumer of news makes a difference.
Ashford: How can graduates properly use their telescope?
Karlgaard: Reading still remains one of the best ways that you can develop your telescope. You can stop and read at your own pace. If you think somebody is fooling you — which is easier to do on TV because you can appeal to people’s emotions — you can stop and look at the logical side of the argument that this writer’s making in their piece. So, I’m a big advocate of getting out there and developing the right news source feeds. Forbes is one of them, but there are many others. I tell you where I start my day. I start my day with a website called RealClearPolitics.com. It gives me what’s going on in the world of politics, which in an election year, is really important to know.
Ashford: Your advice for this year’s graduates on getting their dream job?
Karlgaard: Get that job and succeed at it, and get that job even if it’s in the mailroom, or whatever it is. Take any kind of job, but keep an eye out for the jobs where there might be a pathway to something else. And then get to know the people in the company. Always do better than expected. Over-deliver. Be pleasant. Don’t take whatever anger or frustrations you have to your work. And things will begin to happen.
Don’t forget to bring your microscope and your telescope, learn everything there is about what you do, and then learn everything it is about the next level your life has, and then keep that telescope handy to learn if the company you’re working for is one where you should be investing a lot of time.
Ashford: How do you think Ashford graduates with their online degrees will fare compared to other graduates after graduating this year?
Karlgaard: People who go to Ashford are not entitled people. If you’ve had a life that’s had challenges in it, whether a military veteran, you come from an underrepresented minority class, or your parents didn’t give you a silver spoon, the resilience you get coming out of a background like that is a real advantage today.
This is an economy that above all is demanding and requiring we keep our emotional health. If you’ve had a sense of entitlement, suddenly that sense of entitlement is crushed. I like the odds of Ashford students because of the resiliency I know they have.
*Ashford University is now the Unversity of Arizona Global Campus.