Reflecting beyond the day I found out why.

All Posts by Prescott Paulin
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. Read the full story here >

Strategic Partnerships Breed Success

Published September 12, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

I feel a sense of accomplishment surrounding our latest creation in the lab at work, which was then marked with frustration because of not deeply understanding a topic.  As someone responsible for a product launch, it becomes challenging to make a decision when you must rely on the subject matter expertise of other people.

At 300 Below, we improved non-toxic cleaning solution, called Pristine, but now we’re faced with the challenge of an increased pH level.  I don’t know what that means when we compare our new solution against competitors, but I’m told it’s not a good thing if we’re far above our original 7.7 pH level.  But then when I get advice from other respected chemists, they tell me it really doesn’t matter.

So what is the real answer?  There’s a lot of difference between theory and real world application.  In this case, we’ve done some loose testing to find out that the new formulation is a lot stronger than our last version.  From what I can gather, I would rather take this new concoction and test it out in the real world to see what happens to our applications than continue to brainstorm on paper.  At some point, you have to commit, and we are holding up our business by continuing to refine our new developments with the formulation.

I’m especially grateful for the generous collaboration offered to us by George Bennett and the rest of the Millikin University Science and Entrepreneurship Program team members, who allowed us to use their chemistry lab to test our pH levels.  We don’t have all the sensitive equipment needed to perform detailed testing, so partners like this are really helpful.

So, what have I learned today?

First off, partnerships are instrumental to success in emerging ventures, which means you need to recognize, respect, and reward the people who help you grow.  Secondly, patience is important to a point with things done on paper, but implementation is far more useful… Picking a path toward real world assessment is the only way to truly understand how people will experience your product once it is produced.

Customer Experience Evolves

Published September 11, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

As we remember September 11th, 2001 today, we also move forward with our lives in appreciation for the opportunity to conduct commerce freely and inspire innovation in our own organizations.

Chicago hosts the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) every two years.  It’s the perfect playground for a new sales recruit in the company to meet the firms she should prospect.  IMTS is massive, taking over the entire McCormick Place Convention Center, and hosting over a hundred thousand attendees this year.  Companies come from all over to showcase their metalworking abilities, tooling, and automation platforms that contribute to the industry.

I’m taking a course in Metallurgy just to improve my professional knowledge, and my professor recommended that I speak with the folks at on of the largest tooling manufacturers there.  As it turned out, our new recruit wore a yellow dress that matched the uniforms of this company, so there were certainly a lot of productive conversations that were started up as a result.  It was amazing to me that she could walk in there, get phone numbers from the men in the group, and start texting them to arrange a dinner conversation that evening.  What a genius strategy.  I had never thought to go any further than a business card, but here she was, engaging them on a platform with 97% open rate for its messages, and building deeper relationships that were much more about having fun than about business.

This is the new generation we must live in… customer service is important when things go wrong, but customer EXPERIENCE is what you’re doing the rest of the time.  I will thank my buddy Joey Coleman for teaching me that!  What really blew me away is that this person hadn’t spent a day in our operations, was just learning the ropes in sales, and was more effective than I could ever think to be at engaging guys in the tooling industry.  Perhaps part of that we can chalk up to the dress, and the fact that she’s a woman in a male dominated environment, but the majority of this capability stemmed from her tact, confidence, and radically different approach to getting to know someone.

With people skills, some people have it, some don’t.  I would like to think I’m a social person with the ability to strike up a conversation anywhere, but she just took that concept to a new level.  Though her methods were not in line with my expectations of her, the outcome was what mattered: we got invited to dinner with several members of their team, and really enjoyed making new friends in the industry.

With or without new business resulting from the encounter, I was humbled by the experience and have rethought what it means to build relationships in the business world.  The line between personal and business communication gets blurred when messages are ending up on a prospect’s personal cell phone.  My takeaway: never be afraid to overlook traditional engagement methods if a different outcome is more favorable and your reputation remains intact.

Rapid Prototyping

Published September 10, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Have you ever seen a car built from a 3D printer?  Check out https://localmotors.com/3dprintedcar/

Rapid prototyping is a bold new future for car making, and today was the first day I got to explore and experience this exhibit at the IMTS show in Chicago.  It’s the world’s largest metalworking show held once every two years in Chicago.  A mentor suggested the opportunity, and the event proved worthwhile, especially as we watched while they assembled a full car on-site over a couple of days.  Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) certainly has something to be proud of, for their team was willing to collaborate and innovate with private industry to make this experience possible.  It comes as no surprise that ORNL continues to inspire such unexpected catalysts for new ideas.

Rapid prototyping has been thought of in small scale objects, but this project proves that large scale items can be quickly manufactured to test their viability.  The big takeaway here is inspired by collaboration, and it’s pleasing to see government resources coming together with private industry.  We’re always searching for ways to combine an offering with someone else’s in order to make an even better product or service, and that embrace of external (heterogeneous) knowledge growth is often the catalyst for innovation.

The stroll continued past the new prototyping of cars and onto the West Building…  Engineers from France stretched out their hands, and we discovered their metal forging process, which uses nitrogen gas to cool and pelletize little bits of molten iron, helping to forge it in the most unique ways before packing it tightly in strong ingots.  Their embrace of nitrogen was not so different from our own, in cryogenic processing.  That caused a lightbulb where, in collaborative discussion, we realized our integration of mutual technology may be capable of further improving the overall properties of their materials.  It’s a process we can rapidly prototype ourselves.

Such a spark requires fresh air and exploration, but if maintained, this spark may well yield a blazing fire.

Kindness of a Stranger

Published September 9, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Waiting frustrates me.  What happened to timeliness of our appointments?  In fact, it seems too easy to make excuses as to why we get interrupted and are unable to keep our own timelines intact.

Yet patience always offers context, even among a world of choice far removed, which emerged today after sitting for an hour in the VA medical clinic’s waiting reception.  The RN’s name is not as important as her smile, spread wide on her face.  She didn’t seem to mind the wait, because it was merely another hour of work as usual.  Yet when I sat down, a discussion of my record ensued and she confessed that her staff had been expecting me.

I laughed as she dropped a stack of papers on the desk and explained how I was the first guy responsible for exhausting their fax machine:  The hospital in Springfield released my medical records.  75 pages?!  I didn’t know a fax could be that long– or even a medical record following cardiac arrest.

Eligibility for continuity of care, which means returning to see the doctors in Springfield who ran the initial tests after my death, would be the optimal outcome.  To my surprise, the VA swiftly approved these new visits outside of its normal line of care.  Among the most grateful are members of my own family, as they have remained hopeful that I will be seen again by the same doctors who first watched over me after going into cardiac arrest.  That assurance means a favorable outcome.

In situations where one must rely on the power and charity of others, I am starting to see how patience yields more favorable outcomes.  Shockingly there are folks today who fail to recognize the importance of being respectful and polite, for that is the great enabler in witnessing exceptional customer service.  I believe most people will help you if they are encouraged and appreciated throughout the process, but a great sense of humor goes a long way, too.  And if you’re interested in learning more about hospitality, I strongly recommend the book “Four Seasons: Story of a Business Philosophy” by Isadore Sharp, which was given to me by a wise mentor who has worked there for many decades.

My First at First

Published September 7, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

The universe has a funny way of presenting itself through other people.  Being open to new experiences usually means listening for cues around you.  In college, that meant camping trips, horseback riding, and exploring the vineyards of Southern Illinois.  Okay, it’s not Napa, but the land is beautiful, much like the rolling hills outside West Virginia where some of the nicest vineyards on the east coast dot the country along with incredible bed and breakfast retreats.

It was the same open mind that led me to learning about a church called the Vineyard, and it’s where I attended for many months in Southern Illinois before transferring to Babson College, near Boston, MA.  For me, church attendance was more an exploration in finding less superficial people who show up on time, and who invite you into their home because they really want to get to know you.  I’ve found that true for much of the Midwestern experience, but church makes that experience more accessible by introducing you to people with a structured belief system.  The emphasis on faith throughout these connections is most important to grow a congregation, but for me, exploring new relationships meant doing so within a context of finding people who remain open to healthy debate, able to embrace thoughtful diversity, and willing to be uniquely inspired by one another.  That, for me, is the basis of why a non-denominational church appeals to me.

Those principles of debate, diversity and inspiration eluded me in deeper relationships on the east coast.  Though I made efforts to connect with new places of worship and new interpretations of religion, I was unsuccessful at finding the right “vibe” of where I felt I fit in best.  In the military, I always enjoyed the rare solitude that you could obtain on the weekend during Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School— a Chaplain Corps worship service offered in conjunction with words from peers, followed by guitar.  Yes, music was a selling point of going to church, but I ultimately appreciated additional time to reflect and reinforce why I stepped up to serve in the first place.

Pastor Wayne Kent at First Christian Church has been the first person in a long time to remind me of this servant mindset.  Isn’t that what carving out a couple hours on Sunday is all about?  It seems appropriate to step up and serve, in any context, offering whatever you deem to be worthwhile in service to a higher power.  Tithing can be controversial, but at the root, it seems fair to request an offering if the organization is legitimately using its resources to better the local community, and it opens its books to prove it.  Tithing to me though isn’t just about money; any good non-profit organization needs volunteers to carry out its mission.  To me, there is no right or wrong answer, but merely a belief that remains: giving something is better than nothing.

In order to give, you must first receive.  Prompted by my next door neighbor, Katrina, I attended First Christian Church (FCC).  This Sunday was the first time I heard Pastor Kent, and he was just as relatable as his followers had described him.  He makes you think.  And if I’m donating my most precious resource (time) to someone, I can appreciate when I grow intellectually as a result.

After witnessing FCC’s service, which included a video of their missionary efforts around the United States, I was invited to meet one of their greeters.  It turned out to be Mrs. Z, the mother of a friend I had in grade school, and had not seen for at least ten years.  The conversation was less about God and belief systems and more about relationships, specifically about the friendship that I had not improved for over a decade.  With the opportunity to connect, I learned a great deal more about her family and the reason she chooses to volunteer at the church.  Wayne had just joked about being in sales while God stays in management.  Well, this was Pastor Kent’s pre-sales process, and I enjoyed how real and no-pressure my meeting was.  Mrs. Z handed me a gift card to get a coffee from their cafe, and welcome information to learn more about the church and its onboarding programs.

When I think about it, from a business perspective, FCC’s rapid growth from 500 members just a few years ago to over 1400 now is no surprise.  They have an effective sales process to recruit and convert new membership, and make sure they feel welcome in the community.  That’s what a good church does for someone new… it gives them another place to call home, and an ability to make new friends.

After finding a new home to challenge my thinking, and explore the purpose of recognizing a higher power, in a setting where I feel comfortable and inspired, I now look forward to further opportunities to explore debate and diversity.

Wayne challenged his new visitors by referencing the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) which struck a chord with me when the father says, “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Though I was at church by myself, I appreciated the love of my own father who was strong when I had died just weeks ago, who remained stronger when he visited me in the hospital, watching and not knowing if my brain would ever return to its full capacity.  He felt hope when I recognized his voice but could not yet see.  And beyond my blindness, he felt strength when I was able to stop repeating myself and my questions in a five minute loop.  Over the course of several hours, I returned to talking and eventually to walking.  I finally got my short-term memory back.  I was lost, but now am found.

Not a moment goes by when I am not grateful for the outcome of that experience, providing cause for celebration among family, and appreciating that we are all able to live life fully.  Today’s reflection celebrated the importance of family, finding home, and coming home.  And it looks like anyone searching for an extended family and a new home will find both in Decatur, among the friends you’ll make at First Christian Church.

Saturday Experiments

Published September 6, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

One ingredient can change everything.

Finding that one ingredient is a bit more difficult though.  For us, it meant listening to even smarter people surrounding us.  As it is said your wealth and lifestyle will likely be inclusive of the average from the friends you surround yourself with, we believe this in a business context as well.  Our partners are everything, and we maintain great relationships with them to ensure mutual success.

On Saturday, I worked with my business partner to improve our non-toxic carbon removing cleaning solution.  After 17 revisions, we finally found the one ingredient through our supplier that dramatically enhanced our ability to clean metal objects.  To us, that one ingredient in suspension with all the others helped shift our chemistry into a revolutionary offering.

We had something good before, but, following this realization, we now have something great.

Greatness emerged while being willing to listen.

Triple Take

Published September 5, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

I see all of us Midwesterners in that central tree.

Click to Tweet

Have you ever passed the same work of art more than a few times and finally noticed nuances that you’d never seen before?

I had a Triple Take on Friday… one of those moments where footwork locks to sustain mental pause, thinking, “Whoa.”

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but through the eye of a photographer it’s possible for many more than a single soul to experience the wonder of the world around us.

Midwestern existence is captured and confronted by Gil Lebois. The wisdom of a tall tree stands out with thin branches cascading in 360˚ from its narrow top. This tree is at the center of our own circle of life: farmland cycling corn one year to soybeans the next, reintroducing nitrogen into the ground to maintain the fertile balance required for growth of our most profitable plants.

I recall learning about this cycle at a town meeting where Howard Buffett shared how dedicated farmers have 40 seasons; 40 chances to make an impact on this earth. If there was a farmer in me, it shuns my single-season decrepit contribution of a five foot plot of soil. No innate knowledge of soil quality will ever improve my seedsprung graveyard of veggie DNA, laid waste by the side of our family home. I farm instead for insights and empathize with the spirit of hard work, patience, and persistence to see through the cyclical nature of such humbling work. My father taught me this, and the Marine Corps honed it.

Our family business relies on the cyclical nature of nitrogen, too. (www.300below.com) We cryogenically cycle metals down to -300˚F using liquid nitrogen and back up to +300˚F in order to increase strength and stability. Much like quality corn relies on soybeans, our nitrogen-based process is needed before the other is employed.

Having passed this image by many times before, I remain now still. “Whoa.”

It took hard work, patience and persistence for everyone involved in this beautiful image. The person who tilled the soil to make it, the person who captured it, and now the person who appreciates it.

I see all of us Midwesterners in that central tree. The seed to start its growth might as well have blown into the middle of this picture from anywhere, and we remain shaped by the cycles taking place around all of us. The French photographer’s roots are now in the Midwest, just as I have returned from the East to embrace my own family tree.

Before The Goodbyes

Published September 4, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

When was the last time you attended a friend’s goodbye party?

On Thursday night, I watched as an exchange student leaving America sent my thoughts racing back to race day… so many questions: What would it be like if people knew you were departing permanently the next day? (Hence the death connotation for my perspective.) Would you celebrate and throw a party? Who would you invite? Who might show up, uninvited? Would you be at peace with their arrival for your departure? Who would host the party for you?

I felt like a witness to this person’s past relationships, with all the different people arriving to say hello, exchange jokes, and celebrate life. For when someone is leaving, many more are arriving to wish them well. Even in the midst of sadness, there is joy and acceptance of the pending departure. It’s a beautiful reality when your friends mention fond memories both of recent and of past.

We are all here for a short time on this Earth, to enter and exit the many communities around the world, to make and hold close our friendships. What matters beyond the deep experience of having a friend is recognizing that friend, honoring that friend, and letting that friend know their friendship means something to you. From that recognition, a friendship may endure. Despite distance we have our words, our conscious power of thought, and our inclusion in daily reflection to appreciate those who think just as fondly of us.

Despite how you may choose to communicate, a letter penned from the hand is most powerful, just as a card to say hello beyond goodbye may keep your mutual recognition alive. So this weekend, as you have time to think before you drink, pick up a pen before the end and recognize a friend. To a friend, your words on paper are not a note… they are a work of art.

(P.S. – Thank you Todd Herman for the sunset memory in Punta Mita that continues to remind me of the power of appreciation, one letter a day, with wax sealing some beautiful pieces of art.)

Collaboration And Success

Published September 3, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

“Just speak very loudly and quickly, and state your position with utter conviction, as the French do, and you’ll have a marvelous time!”
– Julia Child

It was ginger. Harmony was found after our missing ingredient was promptly dissolved among Wednesday’s concoction. I found myself pretending to be a chef again…

If you have French friends, you’ll recall how they enlighten you while gesturing brilliant facial expressions and, in my case, hover appendages atop a hot stove. Their friendships are hands on, and guests take part in culinary theatrics. Taking chance on a soup or a stew is sheer fun… It means forking over the spoon (is that a sensical statement?) and prompting kitchen collaboration.

Five of us gather around a pot of boiling water, independently adding our salmagundi of little tastes, debating how much coconut milk should be added to contrast the fish sauce. My attempts to add anything spicy to the mix are rejected.
We inquire amongst each other to determine what else must be missing. To be French and debate the authenticity of an Asian dish… I appreciate the literal melting pot revealed in conversation, and, stating my own position with utter conviction, I rapidly gesture stop signs with my hands to prevent heavy whipping cream from mingling with coconut milk.

Soup seems easily adjustable… until you get to salt and cream. Florence smiles and says, “Well… Alright!”

Unable to read the French recipe, or understand the verbiage of directives hoisted around me, executing a Vietnamese soup with French directions would be an impossible task if I were alone. My closest comparisons toward culinary authenticity are bastardized smells on loan from Laos, Vietnam’s next door neighbor. I rely on playing kitchen charades to assess my responsibilities and remember that I’m Gil’s guest, not the chef. I smile back at Flo; flailing hands are restrained at their side as I enjoy the rest of our collaboration while new flavors populate and improve the dish.

My hands are moving again, as a heavy knife is placed gently into them. Soon I am slicing and chopping shallots, crisping them in a pan, and stirring other little slivers of green onions through the same process. Smiles are traded as we are all doing our part to get our pieces into the pot.

This little dance continues until we taste the perfect spoon. Smelling success, we all take pride in knowing one simple fact: this flavor is a balance of our hard work together. It’s hard to forget a meal that you made in the company of friends, using your own two hands.

So… what did you cook tonight?