The dinner bell rang at five minutes to go before sitting down to eat our evening meal. Dad called it the “5-minute warning;” the signal to wrap up whatever you were doing and join the family for food and conversation. The bell had been in the family since my parents wed. As part of your role of setting the table, you rang the bell after consulting Mom, who managed the kitchen.
You know you have grown up in an engineering culture when dinner time resembles a well-defined process. Naturally, continuous improvement becomes second nature and adapting to change is to be expected. For example, family schedules change as the family matures. A rigid process that never adapts does not recognize the realities that engineering needs to take into consideration.
Families differ in how they manage their children’s eating habits. While some maintained that you have a serving of everything on your plate, my parents took a practical tack. Everyone served themselves, with the expectation that you ate everything you put on your plate. The first improvement they sought was the request that you try one tablespoon of cooked vegetables. Like all children, we viewed green and orange cooked plants with suspicion. If you didn’t eat that one tablespoon: “No dessert.” As we matured we discovered that our suspicion of cooked vegetables was unnecessary. I have a clear memory of when broccoli became a favorite of mine to eat. Such a conversion justifies my parents’ insistence on that tablespoon of vegetables.
“Pass the dishes around the table three times!” Dad decided one evening. So a new process came to dinner time; you would think that once would be sufficient. Yet every engineer discovers early in their career the power of redundancy–Once is Not Enough. Honestly, I have no idea what prompted this decision and Dad probably doesn’t recall either. Knowing how lively conversation can be at the Meixner household, I guess that being caught up in the heat of dialogue caused one to forget to serve oneself. No one should go hungry, so the rule to pass it around three times became part of our dinner time process.
Redundancy showed up in other forms: how many salt and pepper shakers does one need? We possessed several sets that we scattered about the table so we always had salt and pepper within arm’s reach. Second rule of redundancy: One is not enough. Napkins rolled into this rule as well; two to three at every dinner plate. Eating can be a messy business, so we prepared for it.
Growing up with such dinner time practices instilled in me, at a young age, the desire for process. This need has served me well as an engineer and technical leader.
Have a productive day,
Dear Reader, what memory does this piece spark in you? Did dinner time have a well-defined methodology or did chaos rule the meal? Or did other family practices instill a need for order and process? Please share your comments or stories. You, too, can write for the Engineers’ Daughter–See “Contribute” for more Information.