Mike Rowe, star and executive producer of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, is one of my living heroes. I’ve given up explaining exactly why…well no, I haven’t, because I am going to try again.
It has always astounded me in our consumer-focused society that we don’t have more ways to learn about how things get made. I mean we watch a song and an amateur singer dissected week after week on American Idol. It’s entertaining, but has little relevance to our daily lives. We spend endless hours in the process of buying things, but focussed more on price or features and benefits. Why not learn more about how people invent things, about craft, about innovative materials and manufacturing processes? I find that endlessly fascinating and that’s part of what Grommet does, for products.
And Mike is a hero to me because he tells those true stories about “dirty work.” His show focuses on the “dirty jobs” that make our lives better: cleaning storm drains in LA, painting the Mackinaw Bridge, growing mushrooms. You get the picture.
I love Mike’s approach because I find it deeply respectful. He shows up on a job site, finds an expert at, say, sealing mineshafts and he shadows him. Then he tries the job, usually screws it up, and he makes all of us a little bit smarter about the life and contributions of skilled trades workers. My dad was a toolmaker in a Ford factory so I grew up with some appreciation for this. But Mike expands my horizons on this front, exponentially. I love his curiosity, humor, endearing self-deprecation, and his reporting skills.
Anyway, he’s interviewed in the current issue of Fast Company, in an article called 25 Ways to Jump-Start the Auto Business. Mike deflects the core car biz question, but addresses his bigger interests:
The seismic shift from manufacturing to services has not only changed the composition of our gross domestic product, but also changed our national mind-set toward work. We no longer celebrate the way things get made. We are more interested in the way things get bought. In this global economy, we focus only on the finished product, which makes the Americans who still make them largely invisible.
Hear, hear Mike!