The 5 balls of life: Coca-Cola’s ex-CEO Bryan Dyson’s speech on love, work, family and friendship

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The 5 balls of life speech by Coca-Cola’s former CEO Brian Dyson (1986-1994) is one of the most viral speeches circulating on the web. Very much in line with Apple founder Steve Jobs’ announcement speech at Stanford University, Dyson addresses the priorities in life using the metaphor of juggling 5 balls. He calls the balls work, family, friends, health and spirit.

5 balls of life: Neither 30 seconds nor a short speech

Bryan Dyson’s speech has reached such fame that multiple versions are circulating through the web: some “extended Director’s cut” versions are aimed to make his inspiring original speech sound even more inspiring, some have called Dyson’s address one of the most famous short speeches, and others tagged it as the 30 second speech. You can even find different dates when the speech is supposed to have taken place.

Truth is that Bryan Dyson really did deliver his short speech about life, friendship, love and family at the 172nd commencement of the Georgia Tech Institute, on September 6, 1991. Mark Turner did the effort to track down the origins of Bryan Dyson’s speech. But it actually is neither short nor lasted 30 seconds only. According the research, the 5 balls of life metaphor is the closing part of a full 1634 words long Georgia Tech commencement speech. Turner found the full original speech in Georgia Tech’s newspaper archives (PDF download of full speech (page 3)).

The real version of the Bryan Dyson speech on the five balls of life

The extract of Coca-Cola’s former CEO announcement that refers to the balls of life goes like this:

[…] Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.Brian Dyson

Man juggling with 5 balls as a reference to Brian Dyson's speech on the 5 balls of life

But Bryan Dyson continues: “You live in a world of growing opportunity at one of the most exciting times in history, and you have been prepared with an exceptionally fine education. Because you are all so well educated, let me pose this final question to you. What is education for? Is it for the pursuit of knowledge or for the pursuit of significance? How you answer makes a difference.
Knowledge is merely a tool. There is someone in Argentina or Singapore who has the same degree as you. The difference lies in how you use it. Will you use your education for life or just as a living? It’s up to you now.

On Brian Dyson’s background

Brian Dyson was born in Argentina in 1936 and joined Coca-Cola in 1959 where he worked during several years in South America, the Caribbean Sea and Mexico. From 1978 to 1983, Dyson was president of Coca-Cola USA until he became president of Coca-Cola North America. From 1998 to 1994, he finally was the first president and CEO of the newly created Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.

A final personal note

I feel passionate about sharing Brian Dyson’s quotes and instructions on how to juggle 5 balls because his speech popped into my life during a crucial phase, when I started reconsidering things. I was dedicating an average of 90 hours plus to an executive job in a project I had felt really passionate about. My passion for the job started to fade, and the dedication to my work happened at the extent of two of my personal values: family and love. I asked myself: How are 90 hours per week dedicated to my job compatible with being consciously present and enjoying my siblings, my wife and my friends? Dyson’s metaphor inspired me to take action before my family glass ball was severely damaged. Since that decision, juggling the 5 balls of life is kind of a personal mantra to me. Thank you, Mr. Dyson, for sharing your wise, inspiring words.

Finally, if you find yourself at a similar point in life, consider doing a coaching process to get things back on track. You can find more info here.