“The Prize”: A Lesson in Self-Development

Lessons in Self-DevelopmentThe bleak landscape stretched out for miles in every direction, waves carved into the sand as far as the eye could see.  Only the jebels, rock formations that were reminiscent of the canyon scenes of Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine in Star Wars, broke the horizon.  To be honest, even as someone who has traveled and lived many places on this globe, the environment of the Middle East was shockingly inhospitable.

During the month I spent in Saudi Arabia this summer, I experienced more than I could have possibly imagined.  A unique culture (even within the Arab world).  Surprising diversity geographically – from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the inner deserts several hours west of Dharan and Khobar.  A warmth from nearly all the non-Westerners I encountered, including both the Saudis and the many third party nationals that find themselves in this desert land on two year contracts as young adults.  It truly was a trip of a lifetime.

I’d been brought over on a consulting project at a large oil company, one of the richest in the world and one whose history included tremendous influences from both American oil giants and other global energy interests.  Yet, I arrived with little understanding of and respect for the complex story of the corporation.

From Day One, it was a cultural experience.  Turned back at the border around midnight the first day in the region due to a visa glitch, my impressions began to form.  But it wasn’t until a few days later, the visa situation resolved, my mind slowly clearing the jet lag of 30+ hours of travel, and my body wracked by the 120-degree heat, that my mentor there in the Kingdom recommended Daniel Yergin’s “The Prize,” a epic history of the struggles and increasingly competitive forces that shaped the oil and gas industry.  A few clicks of my mouse later, and Yergin’s tale was delivered effortlessly to the Kindle app on my iPad.  It was the beginning of one of the most fascinating moments of self-development I’ve experienced in years…..

If you’re anything like me, you’ve likely taken for granted the relative infancy and overwhelming complexity of the growth of the oil industry in the past century or so.  I’ve certainly understood the modern politico-petrol issues of our times, the influence of oil on American foreign policy and the extent to which this resource hold hostage the modern economic world.  But just how this issue evolved, from Rockefeller’s early days with Standard Oil to the multinational conglomerates that both control the prices and the supply of our economic lifeblood to this day, was unknown to me.

I won’t bore you with all the details as only I could, but that from which Yergin spins an enriching and fascinating tale, except to recommend this book most heartily.  And my point isn’t really to drive you in droves to Amazon as a market pitch for this book.  Rather, I hope to simply point out how spending time exploring this resource broadly expanded my ability to provide consulting services to this company in a way that respected and leveraged the unique culture of the organization.

In the end, I’m still finishing “The Prize,” (it’s over 700 pages), and it’s just as interesting at page 600 as it was in the beginning.  And I’ve downloaded his subsequent work, “The Quest,” which also deals with the oil industry.  I’ll be starting that one in the next several weeks, for sure.The Prize

What I’ve learned has provided my insights into the evolved minds of the leaders and executives I worked with in Saudi, information which will continue to be of use in any subsequent trips over there.  But if not for the off-hand remark of one individual, offered at a time when my jet lag threatened all cognitive processing, I’d have missed out on this powerful development opportunity.  Did anyone pay me to read the book?  Was there any extrinsic motivation for diving into a 700-page behemoth?  Nope, but I’m sure glad I did.  And in the end, I’m confident my client would agree.

So, when you get a recommendation for a book that may prove useful to a project on which you’re working, at the very least, take a look a the resource to see if it could be of benefit in providing you with the cultural and historical background necessary to excel in your service provision.  At the worst, you merely learn something new.  At best, you gain knowledge you can then apply in a most powerful way for someone else.  And when that happens, pass along the recommendation to someone else.  That’s how we should all roll…..

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