My first exposure to manufacturing was not promising. Shop class, or Industrial Arts, was a requirement in middle school. It was a class in which the procedures were rigid and the teachers stern—owing (I now realize) to the precision and potential peril of the equipment we used. We also had to wear hair nets, offering further cause for bristling. When middle school ended and my time in this class was done, I felt relieved.
But I studied engineering in college. At an aerospace company, I worked in machining. Programming machine tools, I saw for the first time how mathematical lines translated to the fluid motions of a tool sculpting a component from superalloy metal. What I saw was real beauty. On difficult days, I could reawaken my spirit by recalling the beauty at the core of what I was doing.
Back then, I had not yet found my place. Now, I have. My real calling involves paragraphs more than programming. How I might have done as an engineer is unknown. As a communicator, though, I think I innately appreciate at least one vital insight about reaching people. It’s this:
Communication does not happen because you or I choose to speak. By itself, giving voice to our ideas doesn’t matter much.
Rather, communication also requires something more difficult to obtain. Namely, communication happens because someone is willing to listen.
Lately, I have had the privilege to work on a different sort of communication vehicle, a project that is a departure for this magazine. Modern Machine Shop is a partner in The Edge Factor—a new show that will compellingly portray manufacturing for a general audience. The show has a shot at TV broadcast, so a TV-length pilot has been made. We’ll see how that develops. Meanwhile, we will continue making episodes tailored to other venues where viewers gather. You can read more here.
Working with filmmakers, a writer of paragraphs quickly comes to realize how little informational content film is able to convey, relative to print. Film is rich in content, but a lot of that content is emotional. The actual informational message has to be lean. This is a challenge. Yet this is the form the opportunity takes.
In our culture, TV and film are where people are paying attention, where the greatest quantity of people is willing to listen. People are receptive to messages delivered this way. They are willing to be informed if they are also entertained, which is a reasonable bargain. So, part of the idea behind The Edge Factor is: Let’s go there. Let’s try to make a show worth watching, a show about manufacturing.
What will the show say? I think most readers of this magazine would roughly agree about what we wish the wider world understood about manufacturing. As episodes accumulate, I hope that message comes across. I hope it persuades. At the same time, I have a hope for the show’s emotional content, too. Through real stories and real footage of parts being made, I hope many other people will set aside their false or incomplete notions from shop class or wherever else. I hope they come to recognize the very same beauty that you and I have found.