Booth professor encourages the impossible

With a title inspired by the famous Lewis Carroll quote, the talk feature six impossible things that have guided Harry Davis through life.

By Mara McCollom

Wisdom can often come from small moments.

On Tuesday, Harry L. Davis, the Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management at the Booth School of Business, discussed what motivated him in his personal and professional life in the first installment of “Six Impossible Things,” a quarterly series sponsored by the Spiritual Life Office.

Davis, borrowing from the famous Alice in Wonderland quote that inspired the title of the series, shared six truisms that have guided him through his life.

“I thought maybe I could generate my six impossible things, or at least impossible things that I believed were impossible early in my life,” Davis said.

One of those ideas is that seemingly inconsequential moments can turn into vital learning experiences. Davis explained that early in his career, he prided himself on crafting difficult multiple-choice exams that he designed to trick students. However, after one of these nearly impossible tests, one of his best students led him to reevaluate himself as a professor.

“He said, ‘I expected more of you than that test.’ And it was like a real stab in the heart. And I realized there was such unbelievable truth to what he said,” Davis said. “I realized that I was pretending to be somebody that I wasn’t.”

Davis also believes chance encounters can have a lifelong impact. Davis is a big believer in blind dates—he met his wife of 50 years on one, but he also believes that the principle can be applied professionally.

“Some of the things that have had the biggest impact on my role in the business school were lunches that I had without a very clear agenda of why I was having lunch. Simply someone said, ‘How would you like to have lunch with x?’” Davis said.

As Davis drew the conversation to a close, fourth-year Chris Stavitsky raised his hand to ask Davis for a lunch meeting next week.

“Another blind date,” Davis said with a smile.