15 years ago, Google’s CEO had a brilliant response to a tricky interview question – and it helped him get hired

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When it comes to job interviews, we all want to give answers that make us stand out from the rest of the candidates. That means knowing how to answer each question, including the tricky ones designed to stump you.

But what if you don’t know the answer to a question?

That’s a problem Google CEO Sundar Pichai faced in 2004, when he first interviewed at the company for the VP of product management position. In a 2017 chat with students at his alma mater, Indian Institute of technology, Pichai shared details about his interview experience at one of the world’s largest tech companies.

In the first few rounds, Pichai said the interviewers asked him what he thought of Gmail. There was just one problem: Google had just announced the email service that very same day, on April 1st. “I thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke,” Pichai said.

He responded by saying he couldn’t answer the question because he hadn’t been able to use the product.

“It was only in the fourth interview when someone asked, ‘Have you seen Gmail?’ I said no. So he actually showed it to me. And then the fifth interviewer asked, ‘What do you think of Gmail?’ And I was able to start answering it then,” Pichai said at the talk.

Most candidates would have attempted to make something up before trying to move on to the next question. Pichai did the exact opposite and ended up impressing his interviewers (after all, he got the job).

Here’s why his response was so brilliant:

1. He displayed “intellectual humility”

More often than not, telling an interviewer you don’t know the answer to something will dock off a few points, but it’s better than coming up with something that may be completely false. Science agrees, too. Research has shown that people with “intellectual humility” – or, as they say, the willingness to admit what you don’t know – are better learners. Laszlo Bock , Google’s former senior VP of people operations, calls it one of the top qualities he looks for in a candidate. In an interview with The New York Times, he said: “Successful, bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure. They instead commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved.” The next time you’re faced with a difficult interview question, stay calm and take a moment to think before you respond. Pichai carefully thought about the question. What could he say about something he hadn’t even seen? Gmail, at the time, was a newly launched, invite-only product, and so he concluded that it was acceptable to not know the answer.

2. He had a reason

Instead of simply saying “I don’t know,” Pichai told his interviewers why he didn’t know: he wasn’t able to use the product. By doing so, he expressed curiosity, which is a trait employers always love to see in a candidate.
Pichai recognized his advantage in the scenario: for every “I don’t know,” there lies an opportunity to learn. And by the fourth round, his interviewer decided to demonstrate the product.

3. He redirected the conversation

After asserting what he didn’t know, Pichai redirected the conversation to assert what he did know. Getting a glimpse of Gmail gave him a clearer understanding of the product. This allowed him to display the forthrightness and intellect that he would go on to become so famous for at Google.

The takeaway is that giving an honest answer doesn’t happen in a vacuum where you score virtue points. The value of being intellectually honest is that it gives you the opportunity to show what you do know.

Continue on to YahooNews to read the complete article.

Master These Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

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woman sitting behind desk reviewing a paper and smiling

By Casey Imafidon

To get ahead in your career, you have to bring something new to the table. While it may go beyond skill sets, other requirements for being selected for a position could be based on personal involvements, attributes, or extracurricular activities.

In this digital age, you’ll need these set of skills to stay ahead.

Accountability

There is a difference between passionately volunteering for a project and being committed to its execution. This is where accountability comes in. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew when you take that assignment.

In the modern workplace, be aware of what you are getting into when it comes to accepting a task, and you have to be accountable for the success of such task.

Adaptability

Change is not something you should shy away from in the modern workplace—it is something you should embrace. Getting stuck to old ways of doing things or old rules may not help the advancement of your career. Open your mind to new approaches and thoughts that would help you solve problems faster and better for your organization.

It is all about responding to what the current situation requires. You may have to bend your own rules and beliefs, but this will eventually make you a good people person and next in line for that promotion.

Networking

A simple conversation could pivot your career. You never know whom you are going to meet and how he or she can influence your career.

It becomes important to hold a conversation with anyone at any time and make it drive your progress in the workplace. From speaking to attending events to sending out your business card, consider what networking could do for you.

Focus

This one comes down to how productive you want to become. It is hard to focus or concentrate when there are many things begging for your time in the workplace.

We all reach that point or know that scenario when it is more fun to accomplish the easier things, such as checking emails or going through our social media page.

When it comes to standing out and staying ahead, you may need to practice focusing more so you have more satisfaction and meaning in getting work done.

Listening Attentively

Listening attentively is backed by taking the right actions after you understand a matter. You wouldn’t really understand a matter if you don’t listen or question every decision that is made.

You should be asking for specifics and getting to the root of behaviors or observations. This way, you would have clearer judgement and take smarter actions.

Being Innovative

It all comes down to asking the right questions and thinking of smarter and better ways of getting results. It could be your approach; it could be positioning yourself stronger and meeting the right people in the right way.

You may not necessarily be the hardest worker in the room, but you would be more effective if you push yourself to look for creative solutions to a problem in the workplace.

Confidence

There is a difference between misguided arrogance about your achievements and developing the ability to stand up for ideas. Sometimes, developing confidence helps you ensure and promote the achievements of others. You need confidence in the workplace if you are to deliver, engage, and reach certain goals.

Leadership

Leadership skills could be a source of influence for your co-workers and would get them on board to reach future objectives. Anyone with leadership skills will always gain visibility within an organization and be considered for more opportunities or promotions.

Communication

Whether written or verbal, communication skills help foster relationships with co-workers and superiors in the workplace. With good communication skills, clear expectations can be extracted so that you meet deadlines and deliver excellent work. Workers are more productive when they know how to communicate with their colleagues in an organization.

Teamwork

There is not much a company can do if it all depends on the activity of a singular person. Success is achieved when different people are working together for a common objective. Team players tend to build a friendly office culture and aid collaboration. Moreover, an organization will fare better when its employees can synthesize their varied talents or strengths.

The modern workplace is looking for persons who can collaborate well with co-workers. If you are a good team player, then you are going to be considered for promotions and career advancement.

Persuasive Skills

There is always that point in your career when you have to tell others about your ideas, services or products. Persuasive skills are necessary for career advancement because you have to be able to form a strong, convincing argument for why the other person should buy your products or services.

Negotiating Skills
In today’s workplace, good negotiating skills are beneficial during both internal and external discussions. Sellers of a new product or idea and customers always require negotiations to thrive in the marketplace. If you can have this quality and maximize it, then you have a great chance of moving upward in your career.

Knowing When and How to Show Empathy

Building relationships and sustaining them is important to long-term career success. Having the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes helps foster relationships and is a key ingredient to getting ahead in your career.

With empathy, you can provide insights and offer support that will help them grow in their job. You don’t have to be in a robotic work environment that limits growth, but with compassion you can steer your coworkers to performing at their peak.

Learn to offer support, sympathy and feedback every day you do business. You will have a more human work environment and be blessed with positive emotional returns.

Problem-Solving Skills

Your work environment presents a series of problem-solving situations. Be proactive at solving problems in an organization by going the extra mile to take the pressure off your boss and colleagues.

Patience with Others

Your patience with others could be vital in a tense situation. While the modern workplace could present stressful situations, how patient you are with coworkers and your superiors could determine your career advancement.

Patience will be noticed by management and perceived as a strong asset in pushing the company forward. There will be times when troublemakers are brought to book for their actions, but you wouldn’t be one of them if you have patience as an asset or skill.

Source: lifehack.org

What You Need to Know About Landing a New Job

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african american woman working in lab

Nearly 75 percent of employers say their company is in a better position than a year ago – which means companies are hiring, according to CareerBuilder’s annual Employment Outlook Survey.

Thinking of looking for a new job? This year, 47 percent of companies planned on hiring contract or temporary employees, and 40 percent plan to hire full-time permanent employees. If you consider yourself tech-savvy, then you’re in luck as technology is playing a key role in defining the most in-demand fields you should be considering. In fact, 55 percent of employers believe that, on average, 50 percent or more of all jobs include tech requirements.

Here’s what you need to know.

The most in-demand fields in 2019 are:

  • Skilled labor jobs: 25 percent
  • Data analysis jobs: 21 percent
  • Digital marketing jobs: 12 percent
  • Cyber security jobs: 11 percent
  • AI/Machine learning jobs: 10 percent
  • Healthcare jobs: 10 percent

Don’t consider yourself “tech savvy”? Don’t let that stop you from applying.

Although employment is rising around the country, 50 percent of HR managers still have a rough time finding qualified candidates for their open positions. Since extended job vacancies can cost an average of $260,000 annually, and 50 percent of employers report they have job vacancies open 12 weeks or longer, this offers a huge opportunity for job seekers as companies are desperate to fill positions.

This year, most employers plan to hire or train workers who may not have all the skills needed but do have potential, and some plan to train low-skill workers for higher-skill jobs. Sixty-three percent have hired someone without the required skills with plans to train them, and more than half have paid for an employee to get training or education to do just this. Employees cite success as well, with one in four saying they have been hired for a job they weren’t qualified for and receiving on-the-job training.

Once you’ve landed a job – or if you’re angling for a promotion – don’t let training slide. CareerBuilder’s report found that while 56 percent of employers say they offer outside training for their workers, 66 percent of employees don’t believe their company has any such opportunities. There’s a good chance your company has perks you might not be aware of, so ask!

Show off your “soft” skills.

While every job comes with specific responsibilities, it’s not just about checking the boxes in a job description. Ninety-two percent of employers say soft skills, including interpersonal skills, communication abilities and critical thinking are important in determining whether they will hire candidates. Eighty percent also said that soft skills would be at least as important as hard skills when hiring candidates. The top skills that employers will be hiring for are the ability to be team-oriented (51 percent), attention to detail (49 percent), and customer service (46 percent).

Make sure your priorities are aligned with a company.

With so much potential for employees in the current job market, you have the opportunity to look beyond salary when it comes to finding the next step in your career. In fact, employees cite five factors that are more important than salary when considering a position: location (56 percent), affordable benefits plans (55 percent), job stability (55 percent), a good boss (48 percent) and a positive work culture (44 percent).

With these priorities, make sure your prospective employer has what you’re looking for when it comes to work life. While the first two are easier to answer right off the bat, use the interview process to investigate the others. In addition to interviewing with your potential managers, look for opportunities to speak with your potential peers to get a feel for the heart of the company.

That said, while employees are looking beyond just salary, the good news is that compensation is still on the rise! Twenty nine percent of employers expect the average increase for existing employees to be 5 percent or more this year.

Location, location, location.

Where you live has some impact on your job opportunities. The western and southern United States offer the most full-time employment opportunities with the West coming in at 44 percent, and the South a close second with 42 percent. The Northeast and Midwest round out the regions at 37 percent and 35 percent respectively.

While the increase in remote workforces has helped extend job opportunities, major cities still drive a majority of job creation. Cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston and Dallas all fall within the hot hiring regions and have strong opportunities, especially in the most in-demand fields.

Source: careerbuilder.com

Tech with a twist: Innovative youth program combines coding and dance

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Group of diverse girls dancing in the danceLogic studio

Numbers, stats and creativity are all integral parts of choreography — but they’re vital for coding, too. That’s the idea behind danceLogic, a program in Philadelphia that integrates dance and computer programming for 13 to 17-year-old girls.

“With dancing, you have to look at the steps and figure out how do they fit into one another. Same with coding,” said 14-year-old Nailah Shabazz, adding “basically, if I see myself coding and helping others, I think I can also bring in other people who look like me, to also want to pursue that field.”

For 14-year-old Lauryn Dorsett, the dancing part came easy – the coding, not so much. “The coding part is sorta hard at first when you think about it,” Dorsett said. “But once you really grow into it, and stay with it for a while, it starts to get easier.”

When she realized how much money she could potentially make with the skills, Dorsett said, she was even more intrigued. “Not all fields offer the same type of opportunities,” she said. “You can get far with this.”

Franklyn Athias believes that opportunity is everything. While working as a senior vice president at Comcast, Athias started danceLogic in 2018.

Originally, Athias only planned to focus on coding – but “he had trouble getting [kids] to participate,” according to his friend and co-founder Betty Lindley.

Lindley, who runs a cultural center, suggested he incorporate dance.

Athias wants people who might be intimidated by the math and science behind coding to understand that it’s like any other skill. “It’s always hard in the beginning,” he said. “This is why the dance part is so important, because a lot of young ladies came in and could not dance. But they practice.”

That’s what happened with Shabazz, who said she “inherited two left feet” from her father. “If I have the confidence to dance in front of a bunch of people and not be afraid of making mistakes, then I have the confidence to accomplish whatever goals I have in life,” she said.

“Something they thought was hard now became easy, right?” Athias said. “And it was all because of practice. It wasn’t anything else besides, ‘let’s try it, let’s get it wrong, let’s try it again and then boom.’ The smile comes on your face and say, ‘I got it, Mr. Franklyn.’ When that happens, he said, “the world is theirs.”

Athias wants danceLogic to help give back to the community. “I came from a very rough neighborhood, and someone introduced me to something that kept me out of trouble,” he said. “If I can help motivate some other person to do the same thing that’s the reward I get outta this.

When the girls finish the 14-week program, they’re rewarded too. Athias gives them iPads, so they can keep coding – he has no doubt they’ll keep dancing.

DanceLogic costs $50 total for the 14 weeks. The West Park Cultural Center, which runs the program, says it will never turn away anyone who can’t afford the cost. The center offers scholarships, too.

Continue on the CBS News to read the complete article.

The Engineers of Formula 1

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Two cars pictured at the F1 Grand Prix of Australia. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

By Peter Placey

When you’re watching a Formula 1 (F1) race, you don’t see the driver, the medical delegates, stewards, safety car driver or the race director—you see the cars. But who builds these high-speed machines? One word: engineers. What does it take to be a F1 engineer?

Most race engineers need a degree or equivalent in mechanical or automotive engineering. Many mechanical engineering courses last three to four years. Annual salary for race engineers:$84K–$152K

There is no average in F1—you have to be the best. Car engineers are the drivers’ ‘right hands’—they have to be resilient, quick thinkers, able to communicate effectively with each member of the team and most of all, have a passion for racing.

Bernadette Collins, who is breaking barriers for women with the Sahara Force India F1 team as a performance and strategy engineer, said in an interview with The Guardian, “Whether it’s a male or female doing the job, we’ve got some of the best engineers in the business.”

15 Best Cities for STEM Careers (and Quality of Life)

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Professional Black Woman

By Nick Kolakowski

It’s a good time to work in a STEM field—many companies are hungry for engineers, developers, and mathematicians.

But not every metro area is a good one for STEM careers; for example, many have lots of job opportunities, but a stratospheric cost of living, while others simply lack jobs.

WalletHub recently crunched some numbers and came up with best metro areas for STEM professionals.

In an utterly unsurprising turn of events, some of the country’s biggest tech hubs topped the list (despite higher costs of living), although some smaller towns also did quite well.

 

 

WalletHub graded 100 metro areas on three benchmarks:

  • Professional opportunities (including job openings, share of workforce in STEM, projected demand for STEM jobs, etc.)
  • STEM friendliness (quality of local engineering universities, tech meetups per capita, etc.)
  • Quality of life (housing affordability, family-friendliness, and so on.)

Here are the results for the top 15 cities.

Best Cities for STEM Jobs

  1. Seattle, WA
  2. Boston, MA
  3. Pittsburgh, PA
  4. Austin, TX
  5. San Francisco, CA
  6. Madison, WI
  7. Atlanta, GA
  8. Salt Lake City, UT
  9. Minneapolis, MN
  10. Cincinnati, OH
  11. San Diego, CA
  12. Columbus, OH
  13. Hartford, CT
  14. Springfield, MA
  15. Worcester, MA

For STEM workers across the United States, the message here is pretty clear: There are lots of places around the country with good quality of living—and great job opportunities.

Source: insights.dice.com

The One-page Resume of Elon Musk

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elon Musk is pictured speaking to an audience using a microphone

As one of the most accomplished CEO’s and leaders in the worlds, he does not need any introduction, as simply saying his name would open most of the doors in the world.

Elon Musk revolutionized, improved and changed many industries, from electric vehicles to reusable rockets to being among the first to create the electronic payments industry to selling 20.000 flamethrowers in 4 days.

With so many achievements and past experiences, one would be right to think that you would need lots of pages in order to cover them all.

However, our team proved the concept of “Less, is More” that recruiters and employers ask for when receiving job applications, and through efficient use of design principles and advice from recruiters we managed to summarize all of the professional experience of Elon Musk in a one-page resume.

The following example of Elon Musk resume is the renewed version which has been created using the professional resume template that you can use to create yours as well and impress recruiters:

elon musk one page resume

The first version that we have created in 2016 proving the concept “Less, is More!” which inspired many persons to reduce the length of their resumes and impress recruiters is the following:

elon musk original one page resume

Continue on to Novoresume to read the complete article and “Build Your Resume”!

What it Takes to be a Successful Woman in the Field of Architecture

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Gretchen Callejas poses for a headshot in an outdoor setting

By Gretchen Callejas

Frank Lloyd Wright. I.M. Pei. Those are the familiar names of two of America’s best-known architects.

Wright’s distinct prairie-style homes dot the American landscape while Pei’s large but elegantly designed urban buildings and complexes are among the world’s most famous architectural works. Pei’s projects, among others, include the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the controversial glass pyramid in Paris’ Louvre Museum courtyard.

But have you heard of Julia Morgan, who designed California’s famous Hearst Castle?

Or trailblazers such as Marion Mahony Griffin, the first woman to be officially licensed as an architect, and Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize?

It isn’t surprising if you haven’t. According to a January 2019 article in ThoughtCo., which listed 20 famous female architects, the role that women have played in architecture and design often go under the radar.

While architecture has been a male-dominated field, that is not the case at Felder & Associates, where I have worked since its inception in 2012. We have four women and three men on staff. The forward-thinking leadership of the firm’s managing principal, Brian Felder, has played an extraordinary part in making our workplace a gender free oasis in an otherwise industry-wide testosterone-filled desert.

Why is architecture, like so many other professions, such a tough profession for women to crack?

According to a 2016 article in the Los Angeles Times, only 18 percent of licensed practitioners are women although they make up nearly half of U.S. architecture school graduates. This disparity sometimes is referred to as “the missing 32 percent.” Unfortunately, females leave the field in disturbingly high numbers after they’re confronted with lower salaries, given fewer career-building opportunities or find a lack of mentors, who champion for them.

Full-time female architects earn 20 percent less than their male counterparts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Plus, architecture’s history as a male-dominated profession has contributed to an all-consuming workplace culture that leaves little flexibility for women expected to balance work and family. According to the Times article, 75 percent of female survey respondents had experienced sexual discrimination on the job, and 83 percent believed having a child would hurt their careers.

My personal observations and experiences have confirmed some of these disparities, but I consider myself lucky.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to maintain a successful professional career while balancing family because I have a husband who shares responsibilities and encouragement. Without his support, it would be more challenging to continue with a professional career.

And while I have quite a few female friends who are architects, I have never worked for a woman nor had a strong female mentor. Contractors and clients often assume I need to ask my male boss for help in understanding construction, codes or a design issue. When I approach a problem with the same assertiveness as a male architect, I’m sometimes labeled with the “B”-word.

Since I was a kid, I dreamed of designing buildings before I knew what that encompassed. And now as an adult would I encourage young girls to enter architecture? Absolutely. I would tell young women (and men) entering the field that determination and passion go a long way. You will be successful if you work hard, tune out the negativity and chase your goals with perseverance. If you want to be an Architect, then go be one.

I finally believe that I am in a position to give them a hand. I’ve been around enough to help guide them and try to be the mentor I never had. I’m pleased we have two young women working with us at Felder & Associates. Alma Johnson and Cathryn Sinclair graduated with architectural degrees from the Savannah College of Art and Design last year and are interning with us as project associates.

Sinclair says she believes the playing field is more level than ever before but there is always room for improvement.

“I hope to continue to see the gap close,” she says.

For Johnson, success is based on how hard you work.

“Now, the gender gap does exist, but I think that the world is evolving on a more modern idea of a woman in the workplace. I don’t see gender. I see what skill sets I need to acquire to be as successful as the candidate next to me,” Johnson says.

I hope their perspectives will remain true and their positivity high after spending 15 years or so in the industry. I suspect they will reflect on their early days as a time when they had to deal with an old and outdated set of standards.

One thing I know for certain. They are in a wonderful setting to avoid bias and discrimination working at Felder & Associates. We are, thankfully, treated equally regardless of our gender, and we treat one another with mutual respect and understanding.

My hope for young women in architecture is that they will continue to mentor the next generations of women architects, have equal opportunities and respect. One day we will be as well-known as Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei.

Gretchen Callejas is a project architect at Felder & Associates, where she specializes in historic preservation, adaptive reuse, small scale commercial architecture and high-end residential design. She is also LEED-accredited from the U.S. Green Building Council. Callejas earned Bachelor of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design from Ball State University and a Master of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation from Savannah College of Art and Design.

Citations:

  1. Craven, Jackie (2019, January). 20 Famous Women Architects. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from: https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-female-architects-177890
  2. Stratigakos, Despina (2016, April). Why is the world of architecture so male-dominated? LA Times. Retrieved from: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-stratigakos-missing-women-architects-20160421-story.html
  3. Newman, Caroline (2019, January). Three Generations Of Female Architects Seek To Bring More Women Into The Profession. UVA Today. Retrieved from: https://news.virginia.edu/content/3-generations-female-architects-seek-bring-more-women-profession

 

 

From Refugee Camp to Medical School

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Samixchha Raut casually standing outside in front of a tree

By Samixchha Raut

Eight years ago, I lived in Goldhap, a refugee camp in Nepal, where more than 7,000 people reside in just over 1200 households, without running water or electricity. Today, I’m 22, a senior at Rochester Institute of Technology, majoring in Biomedical Science and on a path to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. I am studying for the MCAT exam to apply for medical school. It has been a long journey for me and my family.

My dad, a native of Bhutan, fled the homeland with his family. He settled in Goldhap, where he did construction work in a surrounding town, and later started repairing bicycles. He met my mother; they married and had me, and my two younger brothers. But there was barely enough food to go around.

In 2010, my family was able to immigrate to the United States, where we settled in Raleigh, North Carolina. I studied hard and earned a full scholarship to Rochester Institute of Technology. In spring 2018, I participated in a study abroad program with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). I spent six weeks in each of three locations – studying HIV/Aids Policy & Politics in Cape Town, Media, Gender & Identity in London, and Family and Child Development in Paris. The experience reinforced my commitment to be a doctor!

As a child, I was stricken with jaundice, and it wasn’t sure that I would survive. My parents worked extra hard and were finally able to purchase the medicine that made me better. Once I recuperated, I decided I wanted to be a doctor to help others.

While studying in South Africa, my class visited a township village, Zwelethemba. I felt like I was back in the refugee camp. The people were living in severe poverty. But you could see and feel the camaraderie and love among the villagers. Every child was being raised by the entire village. I pictured myself in them.

It took me back to our camp and to our struggles. I spent 13 years of my life in a refugee camp, living just like these people, and then suddenly, there was I among them as a scholar. It reaffirmed that I am on the right path. It’s important for me to become a doctor and pursue my passion of helping underserved people by providing them with adequate health care.

The study abroad experience was so valuable because I know if I’m to become a doctor and work with a diverse population of people, then I need to experience diversity. This exposure has boosted my motivation to work hard and give back to the community.

Continue on to Hudson Valley Press to read the complete article.

Calculating the Perfect Free Throw

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LeBron James throws a free throw

You’re at a Lakers game, sipping on your soda and watching LeBron James run back and forth with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. A player lines up for the free throw—he shoots, he scores! But why?

Most likely years of practice perfecting his free throw, based on the research of Dr. Chau Tran and Larry M. Silverberg to digitally simulate the trajectories of millions of basketballs. After meticulously breaking down the free throw over the course of five years, Tran and Silverberg found that that there are patterns of statistical probabilities that emerge during the study of successful free throws.

Their research allows them to predict the chances a shooter has to sink a free throw and to identify both what he is doing right and wrong.

Source: theconversation.com

Common Name, Uncommon Path

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Common seated at the panel at the Black Caucus

By Jovane Marie

With a career spanning almost three decades, Common’s journey in the spotlight has been anything but.

Along the way, he’s gained an ever-expanding list of titles and credits that run the gamut: rapper, artist, father, actor, activist, model, author, designer, philanthropist, Microsoft ambassador, and Academy Award winner, to name a few.

But if you’re thinking that’s enough to satisfy this modern-day Renaissance Man, you’re wrong. “I revel in the fact that in being all of these things, I don’t have to choose,” said the multi-hyphenate talent. “I want to do and be more…what I’ve accomplished so far is great, but there is always more to achieve.”

Voice of the Future
Common might’ve had his start in the music industry, but he’s no stranger to the world of STEM. In fact, he’s had a long-standing relationship with tech behemoth Microsoft dating all the way back to 2008, when the two partnered to launch Softwear (a play on “software”), a retro clothing line of T-shirts featuring MS-DOS (an operating system) font. Six years later, that partnership was re-birthed as the tech giant searched for a spokesperson to helm its first Super Bowl commercial. Common sent in a tape explaining why he wanted to lend his voice, and the rest—they say—is history. Since the inaugural commercial in 2014, the artist has lent his voice to a multitude of commercials, shorts, and presentations touting the importance of advancing technology and the infinite possibilities created by Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

“Technology is possibility, adaptability, and capability,” he muses in one spot. “It’s not about changing what came before—it’s about creating what comes next. Right now, we have more power at our fingertips than entire generations that came before us…the question is, what will we do with it?”

Actor to Activist
Common’s firm footing in the entertainment industry might sound like a full-time endeavor, but he has consciously created the time and space to enrich and advocate for the causes he believes in. “The truth is, you don’t have to be an actor, or an athlete, or an influencer to make a difference,” he said in a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs. “All you have to do is have a desire the make the world a better place. Every human being can do it, and I have a desire to do my part.”

L to R-Lamar Johnson, Sabrina Carpenter, Russell Hornsby, Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith and Common attend The Hate U Give New York Screening at Paris Theatre
L to R-Lamar Johnson, Sabrina Carpenter, Russell Hornsby, Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith and Common attend “The Hate U Give” New York Screening at Paris Theatre.

This desire has manifested into fervent action focused on increasing and championing diversity and mentoring youth in the inner-cities of his home state, among other things.

In January, he delivered the closing keynote at the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion conference, a gathering of more than 250 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officers (CDO) from an array of Fortune 500 companies on a mission to provide tangible, ready-to-implement strategies to encourage and increase diversity and inclusion both internally and within their local communities.

“My interest in promoting diversity was rooted in my looking in these communities and seeing certain people not having access to the same opportunities,” said the ardent advocator. “The undeniable fact is that we need to see more women and POC [people of color] in positions of power—same for different beliefs and those in the LGBTQ+ community.” “We have to figure out ways to increase the diversity, and that starts with a conversation. For me, I love being in a position where I can be a part of the paradigm shift and contribute to that conversation.”

Common performs onstage during OZY Fest
Common performs onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park in New York City.

Speaking to C-suite leaders about diversity isn’t the only way Common is lending his voice to the diversity conversation. In 2018, after African-American business partners Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were racially profiled in a Starbucks—causing national outrage—the chain subsequently closed 8,000 stores for a day to conduct anti-bias training. The voice they heard in those videos, stressing the importance of anti-discrimination and inclusivity? Take a guess. The art of the give-back has further manifested into the creation of the Common Ground Foundation, an organization dedicated to reach and impact inner-city youth in Chicago through mentorship and college-preparation programs. For more than a decade, the foundation has intimately focused on nutrition, healthy living, financial living, character development, and creative expression—even holding youth leadership conferences and summer camps. With more than $230,000 in scholarships awarded, a 100 percent graduation rate among participants, a 99 percent college attendance rate, and more than 2,500 collective hours of community service provided to the community, the organization has earned the distinction of an impactful labor of love.

Common with classroom full of school children.
Common visits NYC elementary school for Back-To-School fundraising with Burlington Stores and AdoptAClassroom. JAMIE MCCARTHY/GETTY IMAGES

“I started the Common Ground Foundation because I wanted to help,” said the philanthropist. “I think making a difference in the lives of others is life’s greatest purpose, and I always believed that of we started with the youth, we’d be planting the seeds for our future to blossom.”

A Tale of Common Sense
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn to an educator mother and youth counselor father, was raised in the Calumet Heights neighborhood of Chicago, where his foray into the world of music developed and thrived. Talented and precocious, he was writing lyrics by age 12, and at 15, formed a rap trio—C.D.R.—with two high school friends. Far from just an after-school hobby, the group served as an industry incubator, not only building his proficiency in writing, producing and performing, but also aiding in his personal branding as an artist.

“C.D.R. represented so much in my life, and it was the birthplace of a lot of artistic firsts,” remembered Common. “That acronym was a revolving door of different meanings—it mainly stood for Corey, Deon, Rashid [our names], but on other days, it was Compact Disc Recorder, or Recording Def Rhymes. We were learning how to record, making demos, writing songs, performing—just trying to figure ourselves out and do our thing.” Influenced by hip-hop’s titans of the time, including LL Cool J, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, NWA, and Rakim, C.D.R. went on to gain a footing in the industry, having their songs played on the University of Chicago’s local radio station and opening concerts for Big Daddy Kane, Eazy-E, and Too Short.

Upon graduation, Common enrolled at Florida A&M University under a scholarship, where he majored in business administration. His artistic streak remained uninterrupted, however, and in 1991, after being featured in The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype column, he left A&M to sign with Relativity Records. It was under this label that he released his first album, “Can I Borrow a Dollar?”, using the moniker Common Sense. The album was an underground success, and laid the groundwork (as well as a growing fanbase) for his subsequent albums and collaborations. To date, Common has won more than 20 awards from various distinguished award bodies for his lyrics, albums and performances, including a 2015 Academy Award for his and singer John Legend’s original song “Glory” (from the Selma soundtrack), three Grammys, four BET Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy. He has also garnered over 40 nominations in the music industry.

More than Music
Had Common been content to produce records, pull awards, and perform his hits for dedicated fans around the world, that might’ve been the end of the story. But, true to his character, he always had his sights set for more—much more. He began making his mark in the film and television industry in the early 2000s, often making cameos as himself and later evolving into more complex roles in well-known films, such as American Gangster (starring Denzel Washington), Wanted, Just Wright, Suicide Squad, Selma (as activist James Bevel), and installments of the John Wick franchise, to name a few. His constantly growing acting portfolio, which currently includes more than 40 films, supports a long-term goal to eventually become one of the great actors of our time.

Common standing posing with his childrens book
Common with his children’s book, “I Like You but I Love Me”.

“I’m still working to get to where I want to be, and I’m always working to get to the next level,” he said. “The majority of roles I want, they’re looking at other actors for. But I’m always going to fight to prove myself.” As he works tirelessly to widen his range and nab multifaceted roles, Common is also focused on another goal: helping amplify the creative voices of others through his nearly five-year-old production company, Freedom Road Productions. To date, he has executive produced Showtime’s popular drama The Chi (created by screenwriter Lena Waithe, the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series), and last year, signed a deal to develop and produce new television series with Lionsgate TV.

On the Horizon
Common’s career in the spotlight has diverged into many paths during its three-decade journey, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Add to that his impactful work in mentorship, advocacy, and diversity, and a bevy of new projects within all of these fields, and it’s safe to say that he may never stop. Next up is his second book, Let Love Have the Last Word, a personal anthology exploring the core tenets of love to help others give and receive love to live better lives and build stronger communities. Following on the heels of his New York Times best-selling memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, the book is sure to be a page-turner.

On the film front, the actor will feature or star in three upcoming films: The Informer, The Kitchen, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Several TV series in collaboration with Lionsgate are also in the works. Simply put, Common wants to expand his experience, provide opportunities for others, and inspire.

“I want to live my passions, help others do the same, and make the world a better place, as much as I can,” he said. “This—all of this—inspires me to work harder and do more.”