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Software exec tells Raikes School students to ask courageous questions

Before the Raikes School‘s Design Studio Showcase on Friday afternoon on the campus of the University of Nebraska-LincolnDoug Burgum (left), the former CEO and chairman of Great Plains Software and a former senior VP at Microsoft, delivered a speech.

“Doug was a special leader in our industry,” said the school’s namesake, Jeff Raikes, who helped Microsoft acquire Great Plains for $1.1 billion in 2001 and introduced Burgum on Friday. “He is very thoughtful about organizational culture.”

Raikes explained that although “cultural” aspects are often referred to as the “softer” sides of business, they are critical. Indeed, they form the basis of the Raikes School’s philosophy; to lead a world-class organization, Raikes said, you have to be both technically proficient and understand culture.

When it comes to Burgum, “I could have learned even more, and so today I’m a student with you,” Raikes said.

Here are a few lessons Burgum imparted:

Ask Courageous Questions

Heroic courage is interesting, and needed, he said. But we all need daily courage – the courage not to back down, not to be embarrassed, and to ask good questions.

What are good questions? As he explains to his kids, a good question is not, “So when is this assignment due?” A good question is about the content of the conversation, and makes the teachers work harder.

Take Risks

Burgum described mortgaging some farm land he inherited after his father died, and using the money to start Great Plains.

“You never do this,” he said. “If your father and grandfather earned this through their blood, sweat, and tears, you don’t mortgage it to put it in ‘software.’”

After taking the plunge, he went to his first trade show and realized that 63 companies in attendance had his same basic business plan. His memory of the rest of that first year is a blur of panic and fear.

“Actually, I think one of the greatest motivators in life is fear,” he said.

Measurement vs. Goals

“It is what you measure that people perform against, so line up your goals with your values,” Burgum said.

Operationalize Your Gratitude

No matter where you are, there’s someone who helped you get there. Burgum recommended making a list, writing handwritten letters to each, and “see what it does to you.”

“Lots of studies have shown that people who practice daily gratitude are more successful, and are happier,” he said.

For more on Burgum and Raikes, see a sampling of our previous coverage of the men: 

Credits: Photo of Burgum courtesy of the Omaha Press Club.

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