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Kevin Conroy: On Perseverance


Kevin Conroy is CEO, president, and chair of the board of Exact Sciences. He is an alumnus of the 2010 Young Leaders Conference. 

In Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman plays Luke Jackson, a war hero sentenced to two years in a prison work-camp for a minor offense. Dragline, the prisoners’ leader, challenges Luke to a boxing match. Severely outmatched, Luke gets knocked down, again and again, yet refuses to acquiesce.  Eventually, Dragline, after unsuccessfully begging Luke to stay down, abandons the fight himself. Luke wins, albeit painfully, by choosing to not to quit. Luke goes on to fight the prison hierarchy, giving hope to his fellow prisoners.

Perseverance is an ethos. In the challenges we face, we usually balance the sacrifice required to achieve a goal against the odds of failure. We often get the calculus wrong and quit too early. History’s greatest innovators, from Edison to Curie to Jobs, began with a resolve to improve the human condition, and a refusal to quit. Similarly, we all should ask ourselves two things before taking on big challenges: What do we wish to achieve, and how much are we willing to sacrifice to achieve it? Sometimes even long odds are worth the fight, or, as Luke said after winning a poker game on a bluffed hand, “sometimes, nothing can be a real cool hand.”