Amid a sea of sameness and ordinary, Dr. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University (HPU) gives the call to action: “Choose to be extraordinary.”
Advocating this guiding principle to students and entrepreneurs, Dr. Qubein believes whether you have an ordinary life or an extraordinary one is a choice you make each day.
Dr. Qubein exemplifies what it means to transcend the ordinary. He transformed HPU from a small mediocre college into an explosively growing, vibrant university, leading the pack in academic excellence, innovation, and creativity. No obstacle holds him back. During the Great Recession from 2007–2009, HPU experienced tremendous growth. Philanthropic investors generously and eagerly provided funding and resources, with gifts over $300 million. This wasn’t a stroke of luck, either. In 2020, while navigating the pandemic amid one of the worst economic disruptions in history (college enrollment was down double digits nationwide), HPU had their largest enrollment ever and was up 6%.
Being extraordinary isn’t just something Dr. Qubein preaches to others. It’s a decision he makes for himself every single day. And what an extraordinary life he’s led. After his father died when he was 6, he was raised by his single mother who had a fourth-grade education and “a degree in common sense.” When he was 17 years old, he came to the U.S. from Lebanon with $50 in his pocket and little command of the English language. He supported himself with numerous entrepreneurial endeavors while attending college. His business ventures include growing a bank and Fortune 500 companies, serving as chairman of an international consulting firm, and serving on and chairing boards of national companies. He’s authored a dozen books and delivered more than 7,500 speeches. As a philanthropist, he’s served as director or chairman of many organizations. His awards, accolades, and accomplishments are far too many to list.
But he doesn’t strive for excellence and to be extraordinary for recognition or to impress anyone. “I want to be best in class, not because I want to prove anything, but because I want to lay my head on the pillow that day feeling I gave it my very best,” Dr. Qubein said.
Here are five ways to strive for excellence and choose to be extraordinary.
“Don’t you dare think horizontally,” Dr. Qubein says. “If you want to strive for excellence, at a minimum, you’ve got to think vertically.”
Horizontal thinking, the way average people think, is when people don’t think about why something is the way it is. While touring the HPU campus, a horizontal thinker will observe, “Wow that’s so cool that they play classical music on the promenade.” Vertical thinkers demonstrate curiosity about why things exist. A vertical thinker would say, “I wonder why they play classical music?” Vertical thinking forces you to think beyond the surface, to dig deeper, and it helps you improve.
To take it a step further, diagonal thinking is when you connect the dots in such a way that you truly understand why something works or is successful. Diagonal thinkers “know so much in-depth stuff that it makes this perfect jigsaw puzzle,” Dr. Qubein said. “That makes it hard for someone to imitate what you do.”
Don’t Seek Ideas; Seek Wisdom.
The biggest mistake anyone can make in today’s environment is to focus on gaining more knowledge. “If all you have is information, people will use you and discard you,” Dr. Qubein said. “If all you have is knowledge, people will only call upon you when they need you. But if you have wisdom, they will always respect you. And if they respect you, they’ll always do business with you.”
At HPU, Dr. Qubein heavily promotes that every student has a success coach and a four-year development of Life Skills plan. “Knowledge does not equal understanding,” Dr. Qubein said. “The reason we all need to be coached, the reason we need heroes, role models, and mentors, is because we have to take knowledge — that is sometimes raw data — and turn it into understanding.”
Whereas you gain knowledge and skills from a book, a speaker, or a bootcamp, using a system such as a mastermind helps you gain wisdom. “What you don’t get today, you get tomorrow,” Dr. Qubein explained. “It’s a continuum. It begins to penetrate your soul.”
Ask Yourself Every Day, ‘What’s So Special About Me And My Company?’
Prompted by the fact that there are a million people in the world who can do your job, Dr. Qubein asks himself every day how he can be more extraordinary, more inspiring, and more caring in each area of his life. Last year, in an effort to spur the revitalization of downtown High Point, NC, he forged ahead with the construction of a nearly 60,000-square-foot children’s museum project. “This museum will serve as a beacon of hope for our city and for children to look forward to when we emerge from the pandemic.” Dr. Qubein stated. Dr. Qubein and his wife are the lead donors for the project, named the Nido and Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum in their honor.
“What’s so special about you?” he asks. You must constantly ask the question and constantly be changing. “If you don’t do it fast enough, you become old,” Dr. Qubein said. “You start making excuses. You stop taking risks.”
Always Be Better Than You Were Last Year.
If, today, the thing you are selling is the latest, the finest, and the best, then tomorrow, it may not be because things are continually changing. Aiming to be the best in technology, Dr. Qubein spent $90 million on technology for the HPU campus. To stay ahead of other universities, he invests in new technology every year. “It’s a continuum,” Dr. Qubein explained. “I know I have to spend $5–$10 million every year, just to stay even. If you are just as good today as you were a year ago, you’re worse off. You must be better than you were a year ago, just to stay even. That’s the way the world really works.” That is also why, despite the threats posed by last year’s pandemic, he pushed forward with a $170-million basketball arena and conference center. “This is unique,” Dr. Qubein said. “ I don’t know of another [university] that has a hotel and a conference center and a basketball arena all together in one building. The arena is set to open this year. Always better your best and you’ll never look back with regret.”
Develop A Growth Mindset.
Part of the HPU mission is that every student graduates with a growth and entrepreneurial mindset so they will have the confidence to overcome any obstacle and be willing to adapt. When schools started shutting down during the pandemic, HPU figured out how to overcome this challenge. Knowing students are educated best in the classroom with live faculty, HPU didn’t merely shut down and go online. They adapted by booking hotel rooms and put safety measures in place, such as changing the way their food operation worked to keep students safe. They prepared to quarantine and isolate students if they became sick. They built a new health services area and had separate entrances for people who thought they might be sick with COVID-19. There were challenges, but they persevered. Families responded positively and loved it. “This is a time for us to inform our clients, to involve our clients, to inspire our clients,” Dr. Qubein said. “But mostly, it’s a time to be agile, flexible, and resilient.”
Extraordinary doesn’t just happen. You must be vigilant, be obsessed, and accept no excuses. You must relentlessly focus on being better and striving for excellence every day. You can’t think horizontally and expect to get the best the world has to offer. You must decide to think vertically, adapt, and continually seek to understand. You must control your mindset despite the obstacles in your way. Dr. Qubein says, “You must raise the standards and choose to be extraordinary.”