Beyond the Build


Wisdom and Experience Traveling Hand in Hand

This week, a couple of us were reviewing an article about a building contractor that let things get out of control on a large high school project. The Board of Education had just announced the school would not open in the fall as planned, delaying until December. (Every surety’s nightmare.) We then started discussing large public projects like this one. One of our Senior Estimators said there was no way we should consider this type of job for us, rattling off six public schools that were unsuccessful and unprofitable for his former employer.

I thought to myself, “Well, I won’t have that experience because I have learned to listen,” something I can say truthfully now. I would not typically have done as well early in my career. To me, experience can be divided about 3 ways:

  1. School of Hard Knocks. This is where you walk through failure, and in the process figure out how not to repeat your mistakes. In reality, and I hate to say this, but it’s probably the most effective type of lesson. I have “earned” a lot of experience over the years, and have a few scars on my back, but they keep my memory fresh.
  2. Secondhand Learning. Listening and learning from someone else’s mistakes stings a little less, but still provides valuable insight. For me, this also means taking a deep breath and maybe waiting a day or two to make a decision.
  3. The Blind Eye. or Stupid Learning Experience. Call it ignorance or call it apathy. This is where you know you are heading into risky territory and do it anyway, as when the tide is rising and there is no way you can fail. The years leading up to ’07 come to mind.

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Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.