Our Best Kept Secret?

If a couple of visitors from outer space came down and asked you, "Show us your planet's best and brightest," where would you take them? You think Harvard. That's a logical place to find some of our world's smartest people.

Columns From: 12/1/1998 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

If a couple of visitors from outer space came down and asked you, "Show us your planet's best and brightest," where would you take them? You think Harvard. That's a logical place to find some of our world's smartest people. You go, but the aliens don't seem to be impressed

Next you travel to our national research lab at Oak Ridge. It's loaded with Ph.D.s and other scientists asking big questions and searching for answers to big problems. After brief discussions, the visitors pooh-pooh your selection.

OK, what now? You and the foreigners jump a plane to New York and visit the United Nations. Now, here's a place with true global perspective, you figure, and here is where all kinds of countries send their really top people to represent their nations to all the other nations. Meetings are set, discussions are held, but soon you find that the U.N. isn't the answer either.

On the way back to the airport, one of the aliens asks, "What's in that building?" Clueless, you stop anyway because you're at a loss for what to do next.

Inside you find a busy machine shop: ten employees working diligently at making a variety of metal parts. "Who is in charge here?" you ask. One of the ten workers looks up from his machine and says, "I am. I own this place." You walk over and explain what's up with the intrusion and the aliens.

The shop owner wipes his hands and invites them into his office. You hang out in the shop. After several hours, they emerge. The visitors thank you for taking them to meet this shop owner. He's what they've been looking for. "Huh?" you exclaim. "After the important people you've met, this is the guy?"

"Let us explain," the aliens began. "At Harvard, we met M.B.A.s and others training to run businesses, but they wouldn't know cast iron from steel. This shop owner runs his business using many of the same skills we saw at Harvard. Then we went to Oak Ridge. Those people had great science knowledge but most couldn't balance a checkbook. The shop owner uses metallurgy, physics and mechanics. And he makes money with the knowledge. The U.N. showed us people from around the world trying to get along. The shop owner showed us his web site where he does business internationally everyday."

Your alien visitors realize that the shop owner embodies many of our most prized skills. Is he our best and brightest? Probably not. Then again, you couldn't think of a better representative.

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