Remarks by Seth Mulligan Operations Manager, TCGPlayer 155th Commencement, May 14, 2016 SUNY Oswego School of Education and School of Communication, Media and the Arts


May 14, 2016

Innovation for All

“Good afternoon. What an amazing and celebratory day for all of the graduates! To you I offer my heartfelt congratulations. And to the wide support networks of friends, family and faculty that have all been instrumental in helping the success of the graduates, thank you.

I am Seth Mulligan and I am honored to share some remarks with you over the next few minutes. When I was asked if I would offer a commencement address, I admit I was taken aback. There is that pressure that comes with trying to deliver that perfect speech. Your mind starts this difficult balancing act: be witty but not too cheesy (I have a horrible tendency to make bad puns), be informative but please don’t make this a lecture. And what can you tell an audience of 3000+ educated people, that they haven’t already learned? I recalled graduation and the commencement events, but you know, I really couldn’t remember the commencement speakers that much. This added some relief; I’m not going to lie.

So rather than try aim for remarks that are awe inspiring, or as witty as a stand up comic, or weave a tapestry of amazing and poignant quotes from the likes of world leaders and literary authors, I will default to practicality. I hope to impart some real world tips to you. #LifeHacks, if you will. In the coming moments we are going to focus on: Innovation for All.

My entire career has been focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. I have had the pleasure of working in both the private and public sector, at companies with household names like Apple and in places with a niche focus, that are quietly scaling towards becoming household names, like my current role with I have instructed our nation’s armed services personnel at foreign military bases on how to become entrepreneurs and I have spent countless hours in the classroom as a student but also as an adjunct faculty exploring Innovation.

I am here today to challenge all of you to become everyday innovators. Listen carefully, as there are just two crucial concepts you need to absorb to be a lifelong innovator.

First: We all need to stop blending Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Entrepreneurs make businesses, where Innovation leads to new products or processes. It’s like the difference of the automobile mechanic restoring a car and a General Motors assembly line. The mechanic on a restoration is constantly finding the best fit, scouring for vintage parts, fabricating things like a floor pan that may be lost forever from rust. That mechanic must anticipate and react to limited resources and be thinking about the end-state of what that restored car should look like when it’s parked on display next year at the Syracuse Nationals. GM, on the other hand, produces cars in accordance with a carefully constructed business model. It takes a design, which may or may not be innovative, but in an exceptional way delivers thousands of replicas of that design to markets all over the world.

Entrepreneurs make businesses.

Innovation makes life better via improved products and processes.

So please, don’t think about how your name would be compared in history to the likes of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Remember they were innovators that had tremendous resources of talent and capital of their companies. Steve Jobs didn’t invent and single-handedly make the iPhone and put it in the hands of the world. No, instead he saw the innovation opportunity and compelled thousands of people inside Apple to deliver on that vision. 

Nor do you need to focus on having buy a franchise, or hire an attorney to incorporate, or win big venture dollars on Shark Tank, or that you need to fire up good ol’ PowerPoint and make a killer “pitch”. Those must to be evidence of being innovative, right—No, those are all functions of the entrepreneur. You, need to focus on making things better. Many of you are next becoming teachers in that noble tradition of empowering youth in, say, an institution like a public Middle School. That’s not a path that instantly translates to entrepreneurship, but what an amazing environment in which to be Innovative! Innovation is not about owning a business. Don’t get me wrong, making a startup company is a great way to amplify your innovation, but it isn’t innovation unto itself.

This brings me to my second point: Innovation is a Process! 

It’s a mindset. It is a series of hypothesis tests. It’s a vehicle in which you ask numerous, high-quality questions, process that newly found information and iterate. Innovation doesn’t happen in a boardroom or some executive corner office. My boss doesn’t walk into our office and say, “Seth, can’t make that 10 am appointment, something’s come up. I’ll be in conference room 2 innovating for the next 90 minutes.” It’s not programmed or compartmentalized. And it is not really a function of how “creative” you are.

Innovation takes time and it takes a sequence of discoveries to drive poignant change to a process or product. Some examples of innovation oriented thinking. 
—Seeing a pain point and committing to eliminating it. Innovation is about becoming a friction killer. 
—Asking questions like, “If I had to recreate this all over again, what would I keep? And more importantly “What would I eliminate?”
—Reflecting on that cliche “Why have we always done it this way?”
—And, looking outward of yourself into markets and market spaces for opportunities.

Now, it’s not enough to just sit in the back of the room and constantly lob random questions. You have to hypothesize and test. You have to built a new prototype and then find every way you can to break that prototype down. No innovation process is satisfied by standing up something new that trades a new set of holes and problems that are different than the previous incumbent set of holes and problems. Any person, in any profession, at any stage in their life needs to think about A/B testing. Innovation is about exercising alternatives and constantly finding if those alternatives are better than what you currently have.

Here is an example: There is a company, N2Care, that is becoming a bit of a disruptor in the gerontology space. Listen to this from their about page on their website “N2Care is rooted in innovation. Since our inception, we have challenged the status quo with revolutionary options for quality senior care.” They must make some new wonder drug for dementia, right? N2Care’s signature solution—The GrannyPod! Or officially titled the MEDCottage. Now, I’m not here to judge the merits of this product, but I want you to start with the image of a shed. Now throw in some advanced sensors that can monitor health and a person’s well being. Give it some paint, ramps not stairs, offer options on it like that it can be mounted to a foundation or wheeled in like a tiny home assured to make grandmother the coolest hipster. It’s an amazingly simple invention, but the genius is in the innovation. They started with a very simple hypothesis: Do nursing homes have to exist? 

So, in conclusion, find yourself a ‘57 Chevy that needs some TLC, and set aside a concrete pad in the front lawn for your parents. Okay, not really. Instead, everyday, try and find ways to embrace the these two concepts:

—Innovation is not about being an entrepreneur where you have to own a business; it’s all about making life better via improved products and processes.

—Innovation itself is a process: ask questions and turn the findings into new things.

Now, please go out and make the world a better place.

Thank you and you all have my sincere congratulations.