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Morris Chang

Eleven Musts for College Students


The chairman of Taiwan’s most prestigious semiconductor corporation shares the secrets to a long life of success



Eleven Musts for College Students

By CommonWealth Editorial Department
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 384 )

Most people know Morris Chang only as a successful businessman – group vice president at Texas Instruments, chairman and president of the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), and founding chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). Few knew him in his youth.

Chang spent most of his first 17 years in the back of a rickety truck, constantly moving with his parents to avoid the fires of the Chinese Civil War. Thinking back, Chang recalls the trek from Shanghai to Chongqing more fondly than any trip he has taken in modern luxury.

Growing up in the crossfire of such major events, the extremely disciplined Chang was able to get the most out of his Harvard education. Chang wrote in his autobiography: “My parents were all I knew before I went to the U.S. at 18. After that, I could rely on only myself.”

Chang knows the importance of education in life from personal experience. In a recent speech at a university matriculation ceremony, he quoted Sir Isaac Newton : “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Chang knows that success doesn't come by accident, but is the result of cumulative efforts. This generation, he emphasizes, needs to realize that getting into a good college does not guarantee greater future success.

The logic of competition is changing, but unfaltering hard work remains the one eternal constant. The following speech should give today's youth insight into how to stand on the shoulders of this particular giant.

In the four years at college, today's students must focus on the following 11 areas:

No. 1: Cultivate a Healthy Lifestyle

If you have already done that, great, keep it up. If you have not, take advantage of this phase in your life to do so, because this may be the last chance you have. If you miss the opportunity now, cultivating a healthy lifestyle later on in life will require much greater effort. Exercising frequently doesn't necessarily mean you want to become a great athlete. It's cultivating a habit, making exercise part of a healthy life.

No. 2: Pinpoint Your Goals – Determine What You Want to Achieve

For instance, what line of work do you want to get into? Is it your goal to enter politics, law, science, academia, or business?

Don't worry too much if you haven't decided on what you want to do. This is a decision usually made in your second or third year at college, if not later. I do hope, however, that you make this decision as soon as possible and within the next four years, because it will help you to know how much time and effort you need to devote to which subjects and tasks, so as to determine the course of your life and career.

There are two types of goals – academic and non-academic. Academic goals include at least your major, whether it's physics, chemistry, engineering, or even literary-related subjects like writing. All these are academic goals.

Non-academic goals, or non-major-related goals, have an even broader scope. Becoming a legislator, a manager in a company, an engineer, general manager, or lawyer – all these are non-academic goals.

You'll have better direction in your course of study as soon as you determine your goals, whatever they are.

No. 3: Study Hard

If your goal is to be in academia, to become a professor or researcher, then you need to spend 100 percent of your time focusing on your field of specialization.

If you have aspirations in politics, law, business, industry, commerce or the service sector, I suggest you spend 50 to 70 percent of your time focusing on your field of study, and use the remaining time studying goal-related subjects that are not within your major.

Let's say your goal is to be in business, but your major is electrical engineering. You will need to spend 50 to 70 percent of your time seriously studying electrical engineering. But because you plan on entering the business world, you need to spend the remaining 30 to 50 percent of your time learning about computers, information, semiconductors and communications, and reading local and international publications and business news. You'll also need to take time to learn the how-to's of accounting, finance and marketing, and learn how enterprises compete. You should even pay attention to the stock values of companies in your industry, and figure out what makes them rise or fall.

If you wish to enter politics, there is even a prescribed method of study, including studying history, geography, and language-related texts and biographies. This is the classic training regimen for all politicians.

No. 4: Thoroughly Understand Your Subject – Don't Learn by Rote.

When reading a book or other sources of information – sometimes it's not a book, but a few paragraphs or a few pages from an article – you need to thoroughly understand everything. How well you understand what you read is far more important than how much you read. And never rely solely on memorization, which is only useful for passing tests.

You've been passing tests all your life. But from this point on, life's tests will no longer be as simple as completing an exercise or writing an essay. Every day of the rest of your life may bring a new test, and those tests will require that you understand and have a working knowledge of your materials.

Take me for example. Both my bachelor's and master's degrees were in mechanics, but I jumped right into the semiconductor industry when I entered the workforce. At first, I knew nothing about semiconductors. I was, however, good at physics. So I went out and bought myself the classic tome on the subject at the time, written by William Shockley, and spent the next four to five months familiarizing myself with everything in its 200-plus pages.

I was young at the time, about 24 years old. By day, I worked on the production line, and spent hours pouring over semiconductor-related texts by night. My workplace gave me a basic introduction to semiconductors, but did nothing for my working knowledge of them, which I mainly acquired through my nighttime reading.

Even at the speed of at most ten pages a night, there were still things I had trouble understanding. So I set out to find a teacher. At the time, there was a coworker living in the same hotel I was, who was very knowledgeable on the subject. He was very fond of drinking, but not a drunk, and could be found in the lobby bar nearly every night between seven and ten. Whenever I came across something I didn't understand and couldn't figure out for myself during my three hours of study, I would go seek him out, and he had answers to 90 percent of my questions.

School is a wonderful environment that is very conducive to study, but you need to approach learning with the mindset of thoroughly understanding everything, and you need to know when to seek out and utilize other resources.

No. 5: Learn Independent Thinking

Independent thinking is lacking in both Chinese and Taiwanese cultures.

Independent thinking means not regurgitating the same thing others have said. Never take what you read in an article or hear in a speech at face value. After reading an article or listening to a famous speaker, contemplate whether what they said was true, and then find another source to confirm it.

No. 6: Learn to Be Innovative

Innovation is largely an innate ability, but can be acquired, to an extent, with practice. The way to do that is by gaining the aforementioned thorough understanding of your subject, applying yourself to your studies, and independent thinking – these three things have a strong direct correlation to innovation.

No. 7: Study Chinese

Even though college-age students have been studying Chinese for 18 years, most still do not have sufficient Chinese ability.

Intermediate Chinese education in Taiwan is very similar to my own education as a child in China . Both focused on reading and writing, as well as memorizing both modern and ancient texts. How is it, then, that at 18, or even 40, many people are still not good at Chinese? Because they lack the ability to listen and to speak.

What is listening ability? While your listeners may be aware that you're talking, they may not be registering what you're actually saying; this is because they are not good at listening. I am a chairman, and logically speaking, people should listen to me when I speak. However, I often find myself cut off after just one sentence in a series of five or six, because people think they know what's going to follow. In 80 percent of these cases, they have assumed incorrectly, as bad listeners.

We all know how to talk. Chinese is our mother tongue, after all. But there are different levels of proficiency. Level one is the ability to express your meaning through words. Next comes the ability to logically explain something; only 60 to 70 percent of people can do this well. The next level is the ability to convincingly convey an idea; 20 to 30 percent of people, perhaps even less, will ever reach this level. And less than one percent of all people will achieve the highest level, that of master orator.

In truth, given time and effort, almost anyone can enhance their listening ability and become a convincing speaker.

No. 8: Study English

English is very important, because for the next 50 years or more, English will be the lingua franca. While it may be a bit late in the game for an 18 year-old to start learning English, the situation is not unsalvageable.

To salvage the situation, you must begin by focusing simultaneously on reading, listening, writing, and speaking. In studying Chinese, one must focus on listening and speaking. When learning English, reading and listening are what's most important. If you are not already speaking English at 18, learning to speak fluently will be much more difficult than learning to write well. But most importantly, you must realize that it's not too late for an 18 year-old to learn to read fluently. You should strive to read English as fluently as you read Chinese. This is crucial.

Give yourself this test. There are a lot of translated books in Taiwan now, both from English into Chinese and vice versa. In two to three years' time, if you're able to read texts in their original language and not just their Chinese translations, you'll have got the job done.

It's the same with your English listening ability. If you don't have a strong background in English, it will be very difficult to learn to speak or write well, but you can strengthen your listening ability. It is of the utmost importance for you to train yourself to read and listen to English well.

No. 9: Get to Know the World

Study the world, not just Taiwan , China and Asia .

You must know English to know the world. If you are not fluent in reading English, this task becomes much more difficult. While they do give sporadic reports, Taiwanese newspapers and news channels provide almost no foreign news. In your effort to get to know the world, you need to start by reading the International Herald Tribune daily. In it, you'll see a different world. Beyond that, you can also read The Economist and Business Week .

No. 10: Learn Public Speaking and Debate

This has everything to do with the Chinese and English training I just mentioned. Speech-making requires speaking ability, and debate requires simultaneous usage of your listening and speaking skills.

Television is filled with commentators who are great public speakers, talking on and on with very little actual content to their words. Good speech-making and debate require not only technique, but content.

No. 11: Lastly, and Most Importantly, Be Trustworthy and Reliable.

“Trustworthy” means never lying, not only to those who are close to you, but not at anytime. “Reliable” means that you will spare no effort to accomplish whatever you set out or promise to do. I hope that all of you can be trustworthy and reliable people.

I believe that social advancement has everything to do with society's leaders. I hope that all of you, from the age of 18 onward, will become leaders in each and every field, and be uncompromising in your commitment to be both trustworthy and reliable. Beyond that, you must also be able to both compete and cooperate with others.

In college, you will learn how to compete and how to cooperate. And I hope you will continue to do so after you graduate, so that our society will achieve even greater heights.

(Taken from a speech by Morris Chang at a 2007 university matriculation ceremony.)

Translated from the Chinese by Ellen Wieman

Chinese Version: 張忠謀:大學生要做的11件事