AIGA Los Angeles
Jul 18 · 6 min read

Born and raised in Apartheid in South Africa, Errol Gerson left for the United States in 1966. Here, he received an MBA in Finance and Management and founded his own firm. Errol is a Professor at the Art Center College of Design where he’s been teaching Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Business Management for almost half a century (and counting), and mentored over 6,300 students on success and effectiveness.

Errol Gerson has been a Board member and Advisor for the Los Angeles chapter of AIGA over the years. In 2017 he was awarded the AIGA Fellow Award for his immense contribution to the creative community.

On his LinkedIn page, Errol shares insights from the world of Entrepreneurship along with motivational posts, and experiences that have made him a sought-after counsel and a respected educator. These simple, honest, and fundamental pieces of wisdom never fail to make us stop and assess for a moment. And now, so can you. What follows is a small compilation of these posts.

1. On Always Learning

There is a Japanese philosophy called ‘Kaizen’–the process of continuous improvement. It involves using small steps to improve by learning to treasure the small moments. Changing ourselves is all about continuously having the intention to learn […]. Each semester for the past 48 years, I begin class by telling the students, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”, which I learned from my mentor Dr. Wayne Dyer. So I challenge you today to begin to change the way you look at things using a tool I call ‘reframing’ or simply seeing things differently […]. The intention to learn always comes from your ability to reframe, and there are always options for you to grow and learn if you choose to do so. It’s up to you.

2. On Multiplying Happiness

I define freedom as doing great work and living your life by your own rules. Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do”. But there is another component to this formula, “doing what you love”; they are different yet symbiotic. Imagine that you love to travel and become a flight attendant. Clearly, you will get to do what you love (travel), but will you also “LOVE” what you do? True effectiveness lies in merging both components–so reframe and do both but better. Traveling and writing about the experience allows you pitch travel companies, airlines, hotel chains, etc., and get them to sponsor your travel and in return get fascinating articles and photos (great advertising and P/R tools). You are now ‘doing what you love and loving what you do’. […] Ask yourself if you do both, and if not, what can you do to change?

3. On Building Character

Too often you hear people talking about improving their reputation, as if by doing that you improve the opportunity to stand out and be noticed. I suggest that you rather focus on the development of your character. “Reputation is how you are perceived to be and character is what you really are.” –John Wooden the legendary UCLA basketball coach. Character is one of the most critical components of the ‘super-humans’ who achieve greatness. […] I believe that the true test of character is how you treat people who can’t do you any good and how you treat people who can’t fight back. We also tend to use the word personality interchangeably with character but they are very different; personality is about performance while character is about achievement. […] Work diligently on perfecting your character.

4. On Failing Forward

I believe that “without mistakes (life’s best lessons) there is no pain, and without pain there is no suffering, and without suffering we would not learn from mistakes, so I urge you to embrace the word “Fail” — which is nothing more than an acronym,“First Attempt In Learning”, and is often accompanied by the word “No” which is another acronym that means “ Next Opportunity”. It was Winston Churchill who best defined success when he said, “Success is walking from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”

5. On Living Freely

I recently came across a remarkable piece of old “cowboy” wisdom, and it said simply “He is free who lives as he chooses”! I began to think about how profoundly simple this aphorism was. Then I began to reflect on my own life and the choices I’ve made. How many times in my life, when making a choice, did I “live as I chose”? So I carefully did a retrospective of the important decisions I have made over the past 50 years (as many as could recall) and what impact they had on my sense of freedom. My scorecard is irrelevant, but what is important is for YOU to do a self-audit of your life and the decisions you’ve made, and interpret if, in fact, they offered you more or less freedom. From today forward try wearing a rubber band around your wrist, and every time you are facing an important decision, pull up and release the band and only then ask if WHAT you are choosing will give you more or less freedom. Being free is to live your life by your own rules.

6. On Success & Statistics

Research shows that If 100 people were to take a reputable course on effective success strategies (or Financial success), the results would look like this:

20% of the 100 people will cite an excuse why they failed. (20 are now gone)

Of the remaining eighty people, 16% will pull out due to various reasons. (33 are now gone)

Of the 67 remaining, 32 will give up within 6 months when obstacles appear. (65 are now gone)

Of the 35 remaining, 90% will give up doing it ‘their way’, instead of the right way. (97 are now gone)

Therefore, out of those 100 people, three to four will follow through and achieve success.

Success is born from surviving adversity and by learning from mistakes. In order to do that, you have to pursue excellence and align your goals with passion and purpose. I challenge you to begin thinking bigger than you are comfortable with, and remember the words of Vince Lombardi (one of the greatest football coaches in the history of the game) who said, “The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have”.

7. On Being All In

I have a life philosophy that has worked for me and for many of the thousands of students I have had the privilege of teaching over the past 48 years. “If you do 50% of one thing and 50% of another, you do 100% of neither. “Another way of understanding this is, “The main thing is to make the main thing, the Main Thing”. When you focus on being the best at what you ‘think about most of the time’, you exemplify yourself and you stick out 1/8th of an inch.

I had a student at Art Center who was a very talented Illustrator and a gifted musician and was torn between both. I shared my life philosophy with him and he chose music — and that young man was Mike Shinoda of the mega band Linkin Park. He chose to do 100% of one thing and along the way became a member of one of the most successful bands worldwide. Tomorrow begin focusing all your effort and attention on the 100% of what makes you special, and WRITE IT DOWN DAILY!

Feeling inspired? Follow Errol Gerson on LinkedIn for more life, career, and entrepreneurship tips.


DesignToast observes timely and intricate issues, examines design history, and uplifts the new generation of designers–with a focus on the local community of Los Angeles.

AIGA Los Angeles

Written by

Los Angeles Chapter of AIGA. Empowering the local creative community.


DesignToast observes timely and intricate issues, examines design history, and uplifts the new generation of designers–with a focus on the local community of Los Angeles.

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