The two major aspects of my life are raising two boys, and my career as an energy consultant, and I love both aspects. The two aspects of my life have natural synergies and commonalities. I often tell my teenage son, “If you do not hate me every now and again; then I am not doing a good job as a mother.” His token response, “Then you are the best mother in the world!” The same holds true for my role in energy consulting as a project manager of large-scale energy software implementations.
The other evening, after an exceptionally long day at the office, the boys and I sat around the kitchen island to catch up on our day. The boys had already cooked and eaten dinner. I was eating what was left of what they had made. The oldest, who is seventeen, was sitting with me eating ice cream, and the youngest, who is eleven, was cleaning up the kitchen. The youngest had made the older son’s lunch that morning, and the lunch bag was sitting on the counter next to the kitchen sink. The youngest opens the lunch bag to clean the thermos and realizes that big brother ate very little of the lunch that little brother had packed.
The youngest says, “Were you not hungry? Are you feeling okay?”
The older one says, “I ate a Chic-Fil-A sandwich. The theater kids were selling them to raise money; it is arbitrage 101 with high schoolers and chicken sandwiches.”
The younger child looked both annoyed and perplexed at the same time, “What is arbitrage?”
The older child began to explain that arbitrage is the act of buying something at one location, transporting it, and selling it for more at another location, without changing the product itself.
This led to a barrage of questions, “How much more did they sell it for? How did they move the sandwiches from the restaurant to the school? Did the sandwich taste as good as they are when you eat them at the restaurant? Can kids pay with their lunch account or a credit card or do they have to have cash? Do you charge sales tax? How do they keep track of that? Is reselling fast food at high school allowed? What stops every group at school from selling them all at once? What if you buy more than you can sell, can you return the extra?”
My younger child has an entrepreneurial mindset. In one breath Little Chirp covered, price margin, logistics, product quality, payment terms, tax, regulation and product ownership/entitlement, basic concepts in the commodities trading world that I work in.
Their conversation flashed me back to my workday. I had spent a great deal of time going from one group to another trying to map out the process flow of a particular transaction involving the buying and selling of refined fuels. What I found was that most people knew their piece of the transaction, the buying/pricing or the moving of the goods, the tax or the regulations involved, how the goods are paid for, but few people could explain the process from end-to-end. One person that I talked to said to me regarding a question about the strategy, pricing and margin of the transaction, “I do not know; I have always wondered that myself.”
My thought, “If you have always wondered, why did you not ask?”
This made me wonder, when do we stop asking questions? I observe that both of my children have a need to have a full, end-to-end understanding of anything that they encounter; moreover, they need to understand where the information they receive has come from. Why does this inquisition stop when we become adults? As a parent, is there some way for me to instill in my children that they should never stop asking questions in order to achieve a complete end-to-end understanding?
As a member of the leadership team of a consulting firm is there not some way that I could instill this in my employees? I wondered this before I joined Veritas Total Solutions, and I have found that the answer is a resounding, “yes.” The company that I work for today has a “speak up, ask questions” culture, which they have achieved through teamwork, and the accessibility of the company founders and directors, who always make the time to answer questions. No one at Veritas is overly impressed with how much you know; they are impressed with how much you can teach your fellow consultants and your client. One of our Culture Code principles is “we are passionate about solving our clients’ most difficult problems”. In order to do this successfully, we are encouraged to be inquisitive and ask questions. Our requirements gathering processes at the onset of projects are an example of how we even bake this into our processes. It’s a formal step that allows us to ask end-to-end questions to make sure we have a holistic and comprehensive understanding of what lies ahead.
I established the same “speak up, ask questions” culture as a parent in my own home. As I said, the two major aspects of my life have natural synergies and commonalities, and I love both aspects. I might be biased but encourage you to find a culture that encourages inquisitive thinking and never puts an end to asking more questions.
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