Story Engineer on Deck

Sometimes I can forget for a moment that I want something different for my life.
I am sitting outside the Chevron building in downtown Houston, the building that in 2001 was home to Enron employees. We have just finished a meeting with a client giving us the relatively recent history of an advisory network within a functional organization here. All their histories are fairly recent, it turns out…the function itself is only two years old.

We asked for this meeting because we are building a website that must include some fairly solid information on this advisory network. I did not think I had the energy for this meeting today. The thought of listening to matters of consequence that are significant only to a very small fraction of the world’s population…and then only for a fraction of their attention span, seemed so insignificant as to be a truly outrageous waste of time. But it is my job, so I go.

I am sitting outside the building now after the meeting, in the shade by the street. There are trees and people and life all around me. And I pull out my computer to write, because I find myself surprised by how I am feeling about this meeting. And surprised, also by its familiarity.

Today, we met with a storyteller. By title, he is an engineer. He lives numbers, drawings and integrated visualizations. He pulls up blue prints and diagrams that mean something to him, but look almost random to my untrained eye. It is a recipe for sheer boredom. But the two hours flew by with the unlikely combination of centralized versus decentralized this and who is responsible for that, no real story content, just regular stuff, told by a storyteller.

It is tempting to say the meeting came alive for me when he began speaking about his last post in Nigeria. “I am a swamp guy at heart. I want to be in the middle of operations, where it is happening.” It is clear by his demeanor that he is quite sincere. He is here because it is a step back to the field in another, grander position. He is stretching and learning as fast as he can to get back into the field.

But to say that this is when it became personal and interesting is cheating almost an hour out of the time in the meeting. From the moment he began talking I was engaged in the story. To be honest, the level of detail covered was really far too deep for our intended product. For what we needed, we could have taken half the time today. But I was consistently committing the cardinal sin of asking additional questions. I have been in meetings when others do this and it is only by sheer force of will that I have restrained myself from leaping across the table to silence the offender by any means necessary. Today, I was the offender. And I was not asking to demonstrate my knowledge. I was not asking because we needed that depth of information. I was asking because a world opened up to me and the questions leapt to my mind. I was curious. That does not happen to me often.

I’d like to say that maybe this will create in me a more generous attitude next time, when it is someone else asking the inanely detailed questions, but I doubt it. I mostly am trying to get the meetings behind me now, and get the product produced.

But today, for two hours, I forgot that I am working toward a different life. For two hours I allowed another world to open up. I forgot that all this supports a system that I don’t believe in.

I was just listening to a story teller.


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