Service Excellence

3 Lessons from My Son in Navigating the Complex World of Finance and Technology

By Rachel West February 28, 2013
6 year old becomes youtube star thanks to inspirational speech upon learning how to ride a bike

6 year old becomes youtube star thanks to inspirational speech upon learning how to ride a bike

I just came back from a fabulous winter break! For the first time, I was able to take an entire week off to spend with my son during his school vacation.  We flew to the west coast, watched a spectacular magician show, drove through the desert and Lake Mead, collected red rocks and sand at Valley of Fire state park, and flew back to the east coast and skied on a snowy weekend… great time was had by all.

Like many working moms, I feel incredibly lucky to bond with my child and joyfully watch the emergent personality of a smart, strong yet genuine boy at display.  I’ve also realized that how much he has taught me about my approach towards my business and work.

So what exactly did I learn from this 6 year old – first grader?  Well, here they are:

1.     Keep it simple

If you can’t explain what you do for a living in a plain and simple language that a 6 year old can understand, chances are you will have a hard time explaining that to someone you meet at a cocktail party or wherever. And if you can’t do that then chances are you won’t be able to explain it to a prospect that you are hoping to turn into a customer.  I am sure that in some dinner conversations, I’ve turned off my friends when I started talking about Big Data and Cloud;  I can now hear them thinking “way too technical,”  as they nodded,  responded politely and quickly switched to more popular topics like education, sports and the Oscars. My son made the point crystal clear, “Mom, I don’t understand a single word you were saying!”  Guilty as charged. So Instead of speaking in big and complex terms on the subject area of IT and Finance, I followed upon the heels of reddit community Explain Like I am Five and told him, “Mommy helps banks manage technology and make it easier to use, how cool is that?”

2.     Don’t be afraid to fail

I was pleasantly surprised when my son decided to join his friend in a wrestling class. He is naturally not aggressive, a little introvert at best. So when he came home beaming with pride, I wondered why, what happened?  At bedtime he won’t take off his new T-shirt that has the class logo “If you’re afraid to fail, you will never succeed”. Every Monday night I watched him become more tenacious, more confident in stretching and calisthenics, more stable in his footing, and more nimble.  Thanks to experienced coaches in his class, they first help the kids overcome their instinctive fears, then teach them fundamental techniques that build their self-confidence, skills, love for the sport and enjoyment.  We, as consultants, should master the art of coaching and training too, when guiding clients to adopt new technology that can be scary. We need to equip our clients with the right frame of mind, with proven methods and best practices, to address their technology needs with knowledge and confidence.  In the end, they will benefit from the learning as well as the advantages of change.

3.     Focus on the critical few

5 was a major milestone for my son; he entered Kindergarten at 5, and went there 5 days a week and had 5 different activities each week: Art, Music, Library, Gym and Pizza Day!  At first it was overwhelming.  When he turned 6 and went to First Grade, there he had many extra curriculum activities – Soccer, Chess, Science, Math, Computer, Piano and Chinese in addition to his 5 regular school days.  He was exhausted; he started complaining about Math classes, and always tried to skip Chinese Sunday school.  Although I considered all of those activities good foundations, I knew he was over-scheduled.  So I lightened up on his daily piano practice, dropped him out of the computer lessons and let him skip a few Chinese classes… He was elated, “I have 5 things to do, Mom. I have more things to do than anyone in my class.” Apparently 5 was the magic number to keep him balanced and still ahead of his peers.  In my world, there are so many financial technology innovations and cutting-edge solutions for us to tap into; often we lose sight of the fact that too many good things is not necessarily a good thing.  We need to help our clients discerning what are the most feasible technologies/solutions for them to adopt and for them to adapt, and ask –  what is that magic number of priorities for them to focus us, given their resource and budget constraints, to stay competitive.

The list would go on and on, as each day he now gives me a fresh perspective, but for a 6 year old, it is just about reaching the end of his attention span.

About Rachel West


As a Platinum Player Award winner and industry solution leader at EMC Consulting, Global Services, Rachel West specializes in technology strategy and implementation, product and service innovation and information management for financial services clients.
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With more than 20 years of experience in the financial industry as an analyst, advisor and strategist, Ms. West offers deep knowledge and insights into the value of an organization’s information assets, and works closely with many leading global financial institutions to leverage their technology investment to better manage information, and empower them to deliver unique products and services that drive business profitability and growth.
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Before joining EMC, Ms. West worked at Putnam Investments, spearheading the process reengineering and user workflow design in conjunction with the transformation of enterprise information architecture that was one of the first in the financial industry.
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A graduate of the University of Massachusetts’ MBA program, Ms. West also has a degree in economics and finance from the top ranked International Business School at University of Nanjing, China.

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