In the 2003 film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which starred Sean Connery, a group of truly remarkable people gathers together to save the world. I'd love to save the world, but what I think I can do is to do my job and live my life as competently as I know how. That's what I think most people want to do. Saving the world is fine, but paying the mortgage, putting food on the table, clothes in the closet, setting aside money for college and retirement—those are the things that we find most important.
But the world still needs saving.
We need manufacturing jobs in North America. We need science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students to fill those jobs when we create them.
We need public policy advocates for manufacturing and STEM.
We need advocates for minorities and women in STEM jobs. We need advocates for a tax and budget policy that will repair our antique infrastructure, so that people driving to work won't get killed when the highway bridge falls down, as it did in St. Paul, Minn., a few years ago.
We need advocates for incentives for R&D expenditure by major technology companies.
We need people to think up new technologies that step lighter on the Earth than we do now. We need innovators in medicine, in food science, in logistics—in every area of human endeavor.
Who's going to do those things?
Rudyard Kipling, the 19th century poet, wrote "The Sons of Martha," a poem that talks about the people who make the world work. Kipling describes them this way:
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.
Who are the Sons of Martha? They are the engineers, the technicians, the scientists, the researchers, the craft workers, the airplane and turbine builders, the highway laborers, the bridge-builders and all the other folks who keep civilization moving through the simple art and discipline of doing a good job. They are the ones who go to work every day and deliver a day's work for a day's pay. They are the ones that stay late and work hard because they care about a job well done.
The Sons of Martha don't think they are anyone special. They don't tootle their own horns. They live simply, most of them, because to them, it isn't about who has the most toys, but who has the most skills and who employs those skills the best way.
The Sons of Martha are the competent people who quietly keep the world on track and running free. In manufacturing and in automation, that would be us.
I call us the League of Competent People. If we do our own jobs competently, we consciously or unconsciously search for fellow members and surround ourselves with them. They (we) are the people everyone trusts to keep things going. And in our own ways, each of us is trying to save the part of the world we can.
That, you see, is the real key. Saving the world is such a daunting task that nobody can do it alone, and it's so enormous that many people don't even start. But here's a thought. Everybody eats pie one bite at a time. If we each pick one thing that we know we can do, and do competently, and we work on just that one thing, there will be change. And then we can go on to the next thing, and the next.
So here's to the League of Competent People. Working together, we really can save the world.