Errol Gerson - Principal Consultant | Mentor
Errol teaches people the love of learning and has been doing so for the last fifty years. With so much knowledge to share, anecdotes and wisdom. He is a Professor at the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California for all that time.
So, why does he do it?
A hebrew phrase meaning to heal the world, and a phrase that so succinctly shares his why.That leads us on to how he got started. From arriving alone in America in 1966, to carving his own path, there was a conversation while at USC, about who on the course wanted to get out of writing a thesis, and Errol’s hand shot up. The alternative was about a college called the Art Center, and a group of disengaged students who needed teaching about entrepreneurship and accounting. He went, he taught, he was a hit.
That was fifty years ago.
The class he teaches is referred to as ‘Business Church’, with the official name of The Spirit of Entrepreneurship, but the former is just as catchy.
The lessons he has learned along the way could span a collection of books and essays, but there are some that stuck out from our conversation.
He shared some of his favourites from various authors, teachers, mentors, and humans he has met over the years, including a book by Dr. Steven Covey, called the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Not only did he read the book, but he wrote to Dr Covey and asked to know more, and later spent a week learning and living the book with him, as opposed to simply reading it.
So, lessons are all very well and good, but the implementation matters more.
Gratitude plays a large and important role in Errol’s life. A practice that he shares with his students and utilizes every single day. An attitude of gratitude is a vital ingredient to each and every day, and we all have something that we can be grateful for.
Taking things for granted to me is one of the cardinal sins. Rank it with stealing and murder - it does both.
Something to note is that Errol never gives up on a student. In fifty years, he has never given up. Part can be credited to his tenacity as a teacher, and part to the fact that he too was given a second chance.
Labeled a troublemaker at school with a desire to fit in with the other ‘bad’ kids, Errol left school having flunked tenth grade and had to repeat 11th, choosing to cut school and smoke cigarettes rather than to learn. He was told he couldn’t attend university until he turned 23, and at that moment, he didn’t know what to do.
With, in his words, the self-esteem of a snail, he enrolled into the Johannesburg Art College, and was later told by a (kind and well-meaning) teacher that he had no talent whatsoever as a graphic artist. The kindest thing that man could ever have said.
Six months later, he left for America, knowing that if he stayed in South Africa he would either end up dead or in jail.
With $260 dollars to his name and not knowing a soul in the US, he went into a coffee shop with the last of his money and ordered a hamburger. In need of a job, he asked the question and started washing dishes in that coffee shop. For a short while, he slept there as well, in the supply room on an old mattress, an act of great kindness from the owner.
Little by little, he began to meet people, and soon moved into a three bedroom apartment shared between seven people. With no furniture, not a stick of it, they drove around for two days straight in an old truck to pick up pieces of furniture left in alleys and ‘dumpsters’. After those two days, they had every single thing that they needed. That was the day he realised that diamonds do lie in the street.
He shared that he has never worked a day in his life, and the passion for what he does is audible in his voice and visible in his mannerisms. And, 5,300 students later, he is still changing lives.
I asked him when he would stop, when he would know that it was time to hang up his hat, and what he said hit home.He said that he would stop when he was no longer excited the night before he taught because he still is, every single time.
A stark reminder to fill life with both excitement and gratitude.
Errol believes there is a higher power at force and that we all have a purpose and a calling. His is to heal the world, and as for the people who don’t try to heal the world? Well, they just take, and then there will be nothing left.
He isn’t a man of fancy gadgets and materialistic things, and he shares that he is wearing the same slacks now that he had five years ago. Instead, he spends money and time on books, on learning, on his family.
Things, they just aren’t important.
There are two tools that he needs to get a job done. Two tools that stand out above the rest. A book, and his noggin. A thinker, before being a doer, the access to knowledge is another thing that Errol is eternally grateful for.
Cogito, ergo sum - I think, therefore I am
Another thing that is clear is that Errol is here to be a force for good, to change minds and to encourage new and different ways of thinking. He shares an anecdote of getting to know the cafeteria checkout staff at the Art Center, and another of carrying smile cards to hand out to those who really look like they could use one.
How can we be that 1% better?
Or rather, in this case, kinder?
Did you leave a trail of kindness? Or did you leave a scar of discontent?
As a co-founder of the PRO community, Errol muses on the wisdom he gets to share with the group. A group that has become like family, like friends, like colleagues. He also has a goal that each member goes on to create communities of their own, a self-replicating model that he envisions as his version of success.
There are so many stories and sections that you could take from this conversation, but if there were to be just one, let it be Tikkun Olam.
You can find Errol via 3point175, his personal site and connect with him on LinkedIn.
Contact details for Errol