Marne Levine - We Need Rookies Like You: Video Transcript

Chris Makaroff [Dean of the College of Arts and Science; Professor of Chemistry]: Now I have the great pleasure of welcoming Marne Levine as our 2016 Recognition Speaker.

Marne is a 1992 Miami graduate with BA degrees in communications and political science. She also earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

Early in her career, Marne worked in the United States Treasury Department during the early years of the Clinton administration. And then later she served as the Chief of Staff for Harvard University President Larry Summers and Director of Product Management for Revolution Money, where she helped launch an online peer-to-peer payment platform.

In 2010, Marne moved to the White House, serving as President Obama's Chief of Staff of the National Economic Council and Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy.

Marne then transitioned to the corporate world by joining Facebook, where she served as the company's first Vice President for Global Policy. In this role, she led Facebook's global public policy strategy, working with governments and non-governmental organizations to foster understanding and support for Facebook's innovative technology.

In 2014, Marne joined Instagram to become the popular app's first Chief Operating Officer. There she is responsible for helping to scale the company's global operations and oversees Instagram's business operations, including monetization, partnerships, marketing, business development, policy, community operations, communications, recruiting, and human resources.

Marne also serves on the Board of Directors of Chegg, along with several not-for-profit organizations including, the Urban Institute, Women for Women International, LIFT, National Endowment for Democracy, and the American Council on Germany. She is also a member of the Trilateral Commission.

In an interview with British media earlier this year, Marne spoke of mentorship and the many opportunities she was fortunate to receive during her upward trajectory. She said, "I feel a sense of responsibility but also privilege to pay it forward to other people, to try and play the mentorship role as much as possible."

At Instagram, Marne is using her leadership and mentoring skills to help the social media platform to, in her words, "inspire people to use their visual voice."

In doing so, she serves as a powerful and timely example of the ways that a liberal arts education, started here at Miami, provides the critical thinking, communications, and problem-solving skills that can be translated into a successful career within one of the most exciting and fast-paced industries in the world today.

Please join me in welcoming Marne Levine to the podium.

Marne Levine (BA Communication and Political Science, Miami, 1992) [Chief Operating Officer for Instagram]: Dean Makaroff, distinguished faculty, proud parents, family members, friends, and — most importantly — the Class of 2016, thank you for the honor of inviting me to speak today. I'm truly, truly humbled to share this moment with you.

And to the Class of 2016: Congratulations! Congratulations. You did it! And we are all so very proud of you.

I still remember sitting where you were 24 years ago. A lot has changed since then but in many ways, that day wasn't so different from today. Our hockey team was among the best in the league. Bagel and Deli was still the place to go for late night, or Brunos. And there was someone named Clinton running for President.

Like today, the crowd was filled with beaming families and excited graduates. And I remember how wonderful it felt to have made it to graduation and to be starting out on that next chapter of life. But I also remember the butterflies and the creeping concerns I had about life after college.

You see, I wasn't one of those people graduating with a traditional offer letter, a start date, or a 3- to 5-year plan. I didn't even have a job lined up past the summer. My friends were dispersing to take jobs and start their lives across the country.

I felt focused, but also a little lost. I remember the questions turning over in my mind: How was I going to keep in touch with my friends? Where was my first steady paycheck going to come from? And that nagging one: What was I going to do with the rest of my life?

But looking back now, my fears were misplaced, and I suspect, I have a hunch, that you will feel the same way when you look back on this day. For starters, there are now things like Facebook and Instagram that will help you keep in touch with your friends. In fact, you can start right now. Does not bother me one bit if you post. Post away! Start! Go! I'm good with it. Even though I graduated in the dark ages — pre-cell phone, pre-internet — two of my very best friends from this place are here today. So the bonds you've formed here will endure.

And there is hope for those of you who haven't sealed your fate yet at the Upham Arch and become a Miami Merger. I ended up meeting a wonderful guy named Phil several years after college. He says I hit the jackpot when I met him. I hate to admit it, but he might be right. He is an amazing partner, a best friend, a great dad to our two wonderful sons. They're all here today, along with my own dad, his partner Ellen, and my sister Lindsey, who also went to Miami and is definitely rolling her eyes at me right now, sitting there in the front row. Like I said, some things haven't changed in 24 years.

As for your plans for the rest of your life, my advice is that you resist the urge to try to predict exactly what will happen to you over the course of your career. The truth is this rarely works. Steve Jobs used to tell graduates, "You can't connect the dots looking forward, only looking backwards." That guy was onto something.

So, instead of being anxious about it, learn to thrive amidst the uncertainty.

In fact, learn that the uncertainty of starting out your career, of being new to a field, or a job, or a community, is itself a tremendous advantage.

If you look around, you'll see how often it is the beginners who excel. This is true in fields as diverse as art, where we value the first-time writer, the new voice, the new sound, to business, and the first-time founder.

You could write this off as beginner's luck, but I think it's more than that. I think that there are real benefits that come with a beginner's mind, a fresh perspective. I like to think of it as having the "Rookie Advantage." And in my experience, the key to harnessing it is less about intrinsic talent than it is about the mindset that you bring.

I recently read an article by author Liz Wiseman, who has written an entire book about what she calls "Rookie Smarts." Her research shows that the most important indicator of success in tackling a problem is not always expertise, but rather your mindset. Experience can be important, but it is often the rookies — those without prior experience in a given job — who actually outperform the veterans.

After reading and thinking about this, I started to see it everywhere. The fact is that rookies are unburdened by the way things have always been done. They aren't constrained by notions of what is possible. And rookies tend to fear failure less than their more established counterparts, so they take more risks.

I wanted to share this with you because as new graduates, you are the ultimate rookies. To succeed, you need an open mind, open eyes, constant curiosity, and a healthy dose of common sense.

Today I want to talk about a few ways that you can embrace your rookie status — not just now, but throughout your life, and as you think about what mark you want to make on the world.

First, start thinking of your rookie status as a strength, and not as a weakness.

In my experience, people tend to hold themselves back in situations where they aren't experts, especially when there are others involved who have more expertise. I get it. I know how uncomfortable it can be to speak up — especially when you think that other people know more than you do.

But push past that feeling. Know that what you have to say is valuable. If you have an idea, don't assume that the more experienced folks in the room have already considered it. That might not be the case, and the outcome of the discussion will be weaker if you don't raise your idea.

As rookies, you have fresh eyes. So learn to trust them. As I often tell people at work when I hand them a document, "Your first read is your best read." You are going to be able to see the low-hanging fruit that other people might miss. If you've considered a situation closely and determined that something could be done better, you are probably right.

I learned this early on from personal experience. Towards the end of my freshman year here at Miami, I saw an ad for Business Manager of the The Miami Student. So I applied for it, completely unconstrained by, or even aware of, my lack of business experience or acumen. I was a political science and speech communication major and well, my resume was kind of thin at that stage. But somehow, I got the job. When I did, I found out two things that — had I known earlier — might have intimidated me and held me back from applying. The first was that the post was traditionally held by a junior or senior, and the second was that the newspaper had no money.

I knew I needed back up, and I decided the only logical thing to do was to hire another inexperienced freshman as my CFO — my friend Trish, who's here today. Trish and I hunkered down in my dorm room, fueled by youthful vigor and tons of candy, mostly candy, determined not to leave until we had a plan for turning that newspaper around. We knew we needed money, so we made a list of people who we could hire to run advertising sales.

But upon closer examination, we realized that The Miami Student's financial woes weren't actually due to a lack of advertising, but rather due to a simple lack of bill collecting. We needed a bill collector more than we needed a head of sales! Somehow, collecting the money that the paper was already owed was an easy solution to bankruptcy that had eluded our older and wiser predecessors. Don't worry, as I'm sure your parents have all discovered by now, Miami as a whole has gotten much better on the bill-collecting thing.

Believe me, I made plenty of mistakes as a business manager, and I learned a lot from each of those, but one of the benefits that I brought to the job was my fresh perspective.

You are about to be the new person in the office, the first year in the grad school dorm, the youngest person in the room. And my ask is that you appreciate the power of your perspective — precisely because you are new.

Now, as hard as it may be to believe, there will come a point when you will no longer be the new person in the room, that you will no longer be that new person in the office. Scary, I know.

So my second piece of advice is that you never stop looking for opportunities to be the rookie — it's a mindset. You can do this in so many ways, and at any age. You can plunge into a new area in your field, surround yourself with people who see things differently, or switch industries altogether. No matter how much experience you have, the key to keeping your rookie edge is to keep asking questions — keep asking "why?" — and to deliberately keep going outside of your comfort zone.

When I graduated from college, I thought I wanted a career in politics. And this came as a surprise to no one who knew me. My freshman year, I had two posters on my wall — one was a poster to elect Michael Dukakis for President in 1988. If you haven't heard of him, that tells you how that election turned out. The other was a poster to re-elect County Commissioner Mary Boyle. That's right: While other people had posters of Prince on their walls, I had "Re-Elect Mary Boyle."

After graduation, I ended up getting involved in the 1992 presidential campaign.

For me, as I suspect this will happen to you, the first job led to a string of rookie moments. These included a position at the Treasury Department. This was before the play Hamilton. The night before the interview, I was studying one of my Poli Sci textbooks, literally. I didn't know what the Treasury Department did.

A position in university administration at Harvard University. I didn't have a clue about what that job would entail.

A detour back to school to get an MBA. Poli Sci majors study Congress; they don't do discounted cash flows or weighted average cost of capital.

A stint working in product management at a mobile payments company. The first time we did user testing, I was asked to prioritize thousands of bugs. I did not even know what a bug was. I thought they crawled. It was a very, very long night.

And eventually a dream job, a position at the White House working for President Obama as an economic advisor. Who really thinks they have any meaningful advice to offer the leader of the free world, especially during an economic crisis?

Now at this point, 2010, given my age and experience, I thought my rookie days were over, until one day I was invited to join a small but fast-growing social networking company as their Head of Global Policy. That company was Facebook. You might have heard of it.

At the time, Facebook — and social media in general — was still underappreciated as a potential source of change. My first rookie mistake was thinking that I didn't want to ever do policy for a company. It was my husband who pushed me to look past that notion and see what I couldn't see.

Facebook was about making the world more open and connected. It was fundamentally changing the way that people were relating to each other and discovering the world around them. It was changing how people were elected and how governments and citizens interacted. And it was giving voice to the voiceless and enabling economic change for anyone with a business idea and access to the internet.

These were all things that I cared about and largely why I went into government. And while I didn't know much about social media, the Internet, the policy issues, or building a global policy team, this was a golden rookie opportunity.

And I must admit, it was scary to leave an 'established job' that I loved, to be a rookie again at a company started by the ultimate rookie — Mark Zuckerberg.

But that's also what was exciting about it. Making the leap to Facebook was one of the best decisions I ever made. It helped me exercise muscles I never knew I had. It made me a stronger employee, boss, leader, and person. And it opened my eyes to a whole new industry.

And most importantly, it taught me to keep seeking rookie opportunities.

So last year, when I was offered the opportunity to be the first Chief Operating Officer of Instagram, I jumped at the opportunity.

Professionally, I knew that running operations at Instagram would be a sharp turn up a steep hill. It was different from anything that I had done, and I didn't have direct experience in many of the functions that would be reporting to me. But I now had confidence that I could add value.

So here I am — 24 years after graduating — a rookie again.

You don't have to jump industries to be a rookie again — you can apply a new way of thinking to the job you are already in or to an organization that you're involved with. The key is to keep learning in every aspect of life. Each challenge will be unique, and each challenge will teach you something.

My final hope is that you take that same rookie mindset that you cultivate in your own life and career and use it to make a difference — big or small — in the world around you. This is the difference between being an average rookie and an MVP, and you want to be the MVP.

Much like veterans in the workforce who are used to things being done a certain way, as we grow up, we get used to the world being a certain way. We might not get fully complacent, but we have the tendency to accept that bad things happen, that the world is unequal, that life isn't fair, and, well, that that's just the way it is. We don't necessarily do it consciously, but it's clear by our actions and responses to things.

My 10-year-old son just finished reading It's Your World by Chelsea Clinton, a book for young adults about some of the challenges in the world today.

One of the subjects that the book covers is the illegal ivory trade and the far-reaching consequences of elephant poaching that range from animal rights, to economic development, and even to human rights because ivory is now a main revenue source for many of the worst terrorist groups on the African continent.

This was the first time that my son had heard about this problem — and immediately after reading about it, he wanted to know what kind of school supplies had ivory in them, so that we would stop buying them. Five minutes later, after a quick Google search, he marched into the kitchen and demanded the piano must go. Now my 7-year-old, who is the one in the family who actually plays the piano, definitely had some things to say about that.

As the ultimate rookies, children — as I'm sure your parents can attest — are also the ultimate coaches.

We can all learn from the way that children observe the world: with open eyes and open hearts, always asking questions and refusing to accept things the way they are.

Like them, learn to keep opening your eyes and looking at issues, even when, particularly when, it's easier to look away.

And like them, practice empathy. Feel what it would be like to be in someone else's shoes and then fight the temptation to stop there.

We need more rookies in the world today. Those who will open their eyes in our communities, our country, and around the world…and ask why things have to be the way they are.

We need beginners, who will look at things without preconceptions or judgments about what can and cannot be done, and then search for ways to solve problems.

We need rookies like you who will take action.

No matter what field you enter or how you plan to make your mark, know that you have everything you need to start making an impact now.

As graduates of the College of Arts and Science, you have earned degrees in curiosity, problem solving, critical reasoning, and getting things done. Now you just need to appreciate the power of your perspective, to keep pushing and learning, and to never stop questioning why things are the way they are.

Make a pact with yourself today to be that change you want to see, whether around the corner or across the world.

You have accomplished so much already, and we are all eager to cheer you on in your first rookie season — and the many rookie seasons that you will have to come.

Congratulations, the Class of 2016!