Are You Listening?

There’s a lot to learn from stories. In our industry, there are many stories being told: crazy, scary stories about bids and deadlines, addendums and job walks. Stories like, “One time I forgot to enter the feeder conduits for the fourth-floor electrical room. We won the bid by pennies! Why, if I hadn’t left those feeders out, we wouldn’t have been low bidder!”

I’ve heard that story at least 184 times from 27 different estimators over the past 25 years. Did I learn anything from it? Of course! I learned not to repeat the same thing.

Seriously, I did learn something.

I learned winning bids can often be as much a matter of ignorance and omission as knowledge and accuracy. I also learned I needed to do everything I could to prevent myself from ever winning a bid like that, so I would never have to tell that story.

Listen to your elders, even if it hurts
As a junior or associate (even as a senior), you are going to be subject to a lot of storytelling. Many of these stories will bore the heck out of you. You will likely hear them many times over. But before you interrupt an old guy’s moment of reflection or his urge to teach, stop yourself, take a deep breath and listen. Pay attention to the deeper messages within the stories—the hidden meanings and unspoken truths.
At the moment, it might seem to be a waste of your time. But someday, when you least expect it, that story may slap you in the face, causing you to make a correction to your takeoff before you bid the job. That’s when you realize the lesson was well learned.

Seek out different stories
Our industry is full of an incredibly deep, eclectic mixture of people from all over the world—each with unique and diverse backgrounds, educations and skills. I’m not just talking about the people who work in the office either. Some of the smartest and most interesting people I’ve worked with are from the field: foremen, superintendents and electricians.

I’ve met inventors and artists, engineers and physicists, army medics and trained firefighters. I recently met a superintendent who had been a machinist’s mate on a nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy. I spent two hours listening to him explain how load banks and UPS switchgear lineups are supposed to work and how they are connected. I learned a college semester’s worth in a short time; my head still hurts when I think about it. I also learned about what I had left out on the last data center project I estimated (and what I need to include on the next one). But more important, I learned how much I still need to learn.

My point is, as estimators, we need to make sure we don’t just listen to the stories told at the office. We need to connect with the field and anyone else who works in our industry, anyone who might have a story or 10 to tell us that we can learn from and can apply to future bids.

You’ve listened to enough of my stories
I hope this doesn’t cause any great shock or sadness to anyone, but I am leaving this monthly column and editorial position with Electrical Contractor. You will soon get a new teacher, someone with a different perspective, knowledge and experience with estimating, someone with a different collection of stories to tell.

Why am I leaving? I’m a full-time employee now. I barely have enough time to get all my estimating done, let alone the hours it takes to write this column. And with my new job, I feel any extra time I spend thinking about estimating should go to my new employer.

Electrical Contractor is a fantastic magazine, and I want to give a very sincere “thanks” to John Maisel for the job and especially to Andrea Klee and her ever-so-patient team of editors and graphic designers. They are the ones who have delivered my (always late) articles to you in fabulous form. They did an amazing job presenting me.

It’s been a rewarding experience and a great opportunity. I’m very honored and proud to have been part of their team for the past six years.

To my 235,348 or so readers (I’m estimating!), I say “thank you” for checking in with me each month and reading my stories. I hope you learned something from me and have become better estimators for it. I also hope my writings and the lessons they contain will never become irrelevant. Remember to revisit them at the website archives and share them with your fellow estimators, especially the juniors. And never pass on hearing (or reading) an estimator’s story twice.

SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. Until recently, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at or contact him directly at

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.