Prescott is a graduate of Babson College, served as an officer in the US Marine Corps, trained police officers at the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, launched POLITICO Pro Defense, and now serves as the International Research Consultant for his family business, 300 Below, Inc. After cardiac arrest, brief death, and subsequent revival, his reflections on an inspired second chance at life are posted here daily.
Reflecting beyond the day I found out why.
“What do you do?” is often the second question asked when meeting someone new.
My answer is rarely the same, depending on the environment where I am at the time.
In metallurgy class our professor made a mention of our business, which prompted inquiring minds to ask about cryogenics. My typical answer of, “We freeze things at ultra low temperatures to make them better,” was not sufficient for the audience.
It was a subtle reminder that most of the people we meet in passing are only ever as deep as your first intro sentence; rarely do they pierce the veil to find out the impact of your current life’s work.
Further questions… “How does that work?” and “What type of things?”
Eyes open wider as we talk about technicalities that would bore most people. They appear to comprehend discussing precipitation of micro-eta carbides, decreasing the oxidative erosion on metals, and strengthing the wear resistance properties of the metal surfaces that we affect. Visuals of a hand spread wide, with the other hand coming in to fill the voids… now the cereal bowl example with pouring sugar in to fill the cracks, adding strength and stability after our process.
We’re deeper now.
Piercing the veil takes time to dive deeper, and the person in question has to be willing to share their knowledge. But when someone is passionate about their topic, they’ll often take the time to teach.
I found this to be true when meeting the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, only a couple months ago at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City, MO. Unsurprisingly, in line with the birthplace of the Marine Corps, I saw him in front of the hotel bar. Stopping to ask the simple question of, “Sir, in your opinion, how does one move rapidly from strategy to task?” yielded a simple answer about the Marine Corps publication on Strategy and the courses taught at the Marine Corps University. But when I pierced the veil, and dove deeper, my further questions led to us sitting down and talking for a full hour as he outlined his thoughts.
Eventually the answer revealed itself: culture.
Through an hour long discussion about moving from strategy to task, the final assessment was that it all boiled down to the people who carried out the directives. Upon his departure to speak with other guests, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps came over and said that he concurred with Gen. Amos’ assessment, but that, on a deeper level, culture boiled down to one component: trust. You see, the culture of the Marine Corps contains a shifting dialogue about the Strategic Corporal, with an embedded story about trusting a junior NCO.
Embracing trust means providing the leeway to learn. Stakes are higher when lives lie in the balance between trust and real world lessons. In his article, first published in Marines Magazine (Jan 1999) and titled Operation Absolute Agility, General Charles C. Krulak reminds us, “The remaining vestiges of the ‘zero defects mentality’ must be exchanged for an environment in which all Marines are afforded the ‘freedom to fail’ and with it, the opportunity to succeed. Micro-management must become a thing of the past and supervision — that double-edged sword — must be complemented by proactive mentoring.”
Proactive mentorship is instrumental in knowing the right topical questions required to pierce the veil on any topic or introduction. Seeking out new learning opportunities where mentorship is available, like the metallurgy class I’m taking now, gives deeper context in conversations where I’ll need to know my audience. In this case, it’s for our family business, but in your case it can be anywhere you’d like to invest your time and energy.
Travel is equally surrounded by opportunity to learn through proactive mentorship and new experiences. Just as I grew years wiser by embracing the mentorship of Marines I’ve met through travel, I also recall one of the most engaging dialogues from visiting the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico at Autumn Equinox to see the serpent shadow moving on the Temple of Kukulkan. Most tourists just travel to see the sights, but I always prefer hiring a local to provide a historical context while sightseeing. Learning through listening while seeing, taking notes, and touching the architecture makes for a far more vivid experience, stimulating the mind and allowing new synapses to fire. The more you travel this way, engaged in locals and their history, the more you start to see humanity unfold in front of you.
I have now heard of The Story of Civilization, written by Will and Ariel Durant, a husband and wife duo who won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction. They created 11 volumes over 50 years, totaling four million words across nearly 10,000 pages. That, my friend, would be a life’s accomplishment from traveling through history, though in a different sense.
From my fascination, I would argue their study unearthed a worthy assessment of one common thread: culture.
Though we can read about culture in a book or on a blog, nothing else can tempt the spirit quite like standing in front of the real thing, and imagining history coming to life as the words paint a clearer picture over ruins from times long ago. From those cultures in the past, our minds must shift and imagine what we can all create for our own cultures far into the future.