Right along with peace and hope, deep-rooted social problems like hunger, poverty, drug addiction (and the list goes on) are brought to our attention this time of year, every year. Each of the problems may get a little better or a little worse as each year passes, but I can’t help but conclude that we as a society could be doing better at alleviating or even solving these problems.

I’m not trying to be grumpy;

I appreciate this time of year as a collective reminder to strive to be our best selves and to consider those who might benefit from our kindness.

Taking cues from engineering, I think we could tackle these bigger problems in our society by cooperatively solving a thousand smaller, manageable problems.

Hope, when combined with purpose, discipline, and cooperation, can create powerful solutions.

There’s an old song my grandmother used to listen to that’s been stuck in my head:

…hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

That section from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” has been poking at me ever since I was at a luncheon just before Thanksgiving. There, I met Dan Gilman, member of the Pittsburgh City Council, who was in Johnstown to collaborate on the challenges facing our cities.

Jobs, drugs, education, the future – there is much to address, and our cities have a lot in common. “Unlike federal or state government, regional governments don’t have anyone to pass the buck to. These problems are regional, so it’s up to us as a region to solve them,” Dan observed.

Toward the end of the discussion, I asked Dan what we, the region, can do to build people up, prepare them for jobs, and make them part of solutions to our challenges. I was impressed with his response:

“The more basic question is, why are people struggling in the first place? How do we get people healthy and educated? We need a broader perspective.

“We need to think about education as going from pre-natal to 21. We need to start with healthy childbirth and early education in order for kids to succeed in school, which leads to better jobs and successful lives.

“Even then, kids are only in school roughly 8 hours a day for 9 months out of the year. The government and community have major roles to play – safe and fun things to do after 6PM, summer jobs programs, mentoring programs, making sure kids have food for the meals school lunches don’t cover…”

“Schools, government, non-profits, private industry all have a role to play.

This man was speaking my language.

Underneath Dan’s approach to the problem and identifying the groups we need involved, there was something more. He was breaking down the larger problems into workable goals so that the different organizations could more easily see where they could step in and be most effective.

That’s just sounds like good Engineering. It’s a profession that changes the way you look at problems. Whether you’re building a mobile app, empowering people to be successful, or sending a spaceship to Mars, the process is oddly similar.

No matter the goal, engineers

  1. Identify and understand the problem
  2. Imagine solutions given the available knowledge, time, and resources
  3. Break the problem into manageable pieces that can be solved
  4. And, somehow, by solving each mini-problem, the larger solution becomes a reality

These steps are what make engineers problem solvers with a knack for creating reliable outcomes.

Engineering is also a very humbling profession. Eventually, you realize that you can accomplish so much more by working with people who excel at what you do not.

From an engineer’s perspective, addressing what ails society is a matter of deciding what we want to accomplish, breaking down the problems into manageable steps, and focusing the right combination of talents and resources to get the job done.

Most problems can be solved. We just have to decide to do it… together.

Can government fix society?     No, but they have a role to play.
Can charities fix our problems?     No, but they have a role to play.
Can businesses? …
Schools? …
Can I?
Can you? …

Practical Inventions wants to be a part of mending and building our society, but we know we can’t do it alone.

If you’re interested, there are roles to play that need you.

“…peace on earth, good-will to men!” the old refrain goes – that timeless, persistent hope. In a collaboration where we each are able to contribute our best, I, for one, believe that a better world is possible, and I’m choosing to do something about it.

Are you in?