In search of the right stuff

Share this content:
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
My deficiencies involving most things mechanical have provided family and friends with countless hours of entertainment.

They've had many good laughs recounting my unsuccessful attempts to change spark plugs, repair leaky toilets and replace sump pumps, just to cite a few examples. During holiday dinners, the infamous ceiling fan installation story is sure to be reprised – if only because it features a near electrocution.

“A man's got to know his limitations” is the sage advice offered by Clint Eastwood's character in the film “Dirty Harry.” When it comes to mechanical ability, I'm all too aware of what he means. Fortunately, such ability is not a key part of my day job. And thanks to helpful brothers, handymen and the Yellow Pages, I've usually been able to compensate for this notable shortcoming.

The cruel irony is that I come from a line of do-it-yourselfers who are completely at ease rebuilding engines, repairing furnaces, installing flooring, hanging drywall or doing almost anything that requires some level of mechanical aptitude.

It's not that I'm uninterested in how to build or repair things. It's just that I seem to be much better at being an observer. When it comes to programs like “This Old House,” “Modern Marvels” or “The New Yankee Workshop,” I've been known to sit transfixed for hours as Norm Abram and his tool-toting brethren make their magic happen. Just keep me away from the toolbox afterward.

So you can probably imagine my delight when I recently had a chance to spend some time at the Kennedy Space Center. If there's a paradise for the handy, this is it. For a guy who has trouble hanging level wallpaper, seeing how humans can be safely blasted hundreds of thousands of miles into space and back is pretty heady stuff.

I don't mean to be a shill for the space program, or to present NASA as immune to criticism. There have been plenty of missteps along the way, and it's not unreasonable to question the return we've received from our space-exploration investment. But I do think it's fair to note that people involved in the space program have regularly made the extraordinary seem routine. 

If there's an explanation for why they have been so good at what they do, I think it boils down to two factors: commitment and talent. To a person, those involved in the space program were (and are) dedicated to doing the best job possible. They also happen to be just about the best people available for the work at hand.

So how is it at your facility? Do you have the right people doing the right tasks? Or are tales of cataclysmic ineptitude fairly common? 

If it's the latter, here's my advice: Get some help before someone gets hurt. 

Next Article in News