October 5, 2023
There have been a few times in my life when I wished I could turn off my internal engineer and just be a regular guy. If you ask my wife she could probably add a few more instances to the list. Being an engineer is so much a part of me that being normal is a long forgotten goal; like having six-pack abs. This came to mind recently when I participated in a volunteer opportunity at a local charity. Our task was to repackage donated breakfast cereal from five hundred pound totes to 24-ounce plastic bags, weigh the bags, heat seal the bags and mark them with a date. The facility was well equipped to handle our group with smaller totes, scoops, scales, roller conveyors, sealers and markers. They were skimpy on instructions though and the volunteers immediately noted that it was all pretty inefficient. For me it was shear agony; I couldn’t help but think of those highly automated packaging lines a few miles away; the source of the donated bulk cereal. I would have loved to have spent fifteen minutes organizing our little line but remembered my wife’s instructions to avoid bossing people around. I limited myself to showing a few volunteers the approximate height of cereal in a 24-ounce bag and suggesting they fill four bags at a time before passing it on to the weight adjust station. This marked me as an engineer immediately. There was no point in denying my nature. I had, after all, conducted an actual time and motion study of services at a previous church. My wonderful wife was mortified that I kept checking my watch and noting increment times on my bulletin. After the first week she made me sit by myself. It was all in a good cause though; by cutting back on the sermon jokes and dropping a few hymn verses Pastor Fred could have every service communion and the congregation could be home in time for the Steelers’ kick off. A real win/win situation. The engineering gene is so deeply ingrained in some of us that we have to actively suppress it outside the workplace. When working with normal people we try very hard to stay in the background but sometimes you just have to group like operations and get on with life.