Wednesday, October 19, 2011

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 10: Kyle Peters

"This movie is terrible," Kyle told me as he tossed the six-part VHS boxed set onto my desk.

"What do you mean?  I thought it was great," I replied.

"I watched it six times, and the South never won once."

It was 1991, and I was working at the World Bank's office in Jakarta.  Kyle Peters - a Virginian - was a colleague, much senior to and wiser than me. I had lent him Ken Burns's The Civil War, which had just come out the year before.

As a young economist, I felt bewildered by the arcane jargon and knowingness of the Bank's culture. There were a lot of things that did not make sense to me, and I felt as though I were simply not smart enough to understand.

Over the couple of years that we worked together, Kyle kept me sane.  Though he would never admit it, he took the mission of the Bank very seriously.  But he made merciless fun of the bureaucracy and had no fear of skewering pompous people who wielded rules as if they were divine revelations or who pretended to know more than they did.

Along the way, Kyle taught me how to tell a coherent story about an economy instead of writing in the "this is up and that is down" style that our boss Russ Cheatham hated so much. He also taught me the ins and outs of the Bank's mysterious economic modeling tool, called RMSM, which required the user to make a judicious judgment about productivity to balance the books (Kyle would pretend to be deep in thought for 10 seconds before hitting a key, and when I would ask him about his thought process he would tell me it was a secret).

To the Bank's credit, Kyle is now the Director of Operational Policies, in charge of trying to align the processes with what makes sense for the Bank's mission. I guess this means that he has to make fun of himself now.  In any case, I am most grateful to Kyle - a mentor, colleague, and friend - for teaching me how to keep caring about core issues even when bureaucracies sometimes conspire to make one cynical. Thanks, Kyle.

PS:  Please don't tell him about this, because he will make fun of me for writing it.