I like music, but it’s probably more accurate to say that I like songs. The difference is obvious when my wife and I roll down the street listening to the radio.
I’ll hum the tune and, quite badly, sing the words. My wife, on the other hand, is just as likely to make fun of the simple chord progression or repetitive notes as she is to join in the chorus. She’s musically inclined, and hears a lot more of what’s going on in the background than I ever will.
I think it’s awesome. The world needs people with all kinds of talent.
But judging from current television offerings, you’d think the world has two success tracks: singing and sports. (Right now, for instance, college basketball is all over TV.) I think we need more than that for our country to flourish.
The experience in my household, with my kids, illustrates my concern about this.
My older daughter is the middle child. She’s definitely bright, but she’s also clever. One day after pre-K I asked her about her day. She wasn’t interested in talking, so she said it was secret.
I told her that I wouldn’t share it with anyone, so I would keep it a secret, which I thought was a witty answer. She replied that if she didn’t tell me at all, it would still be secret. I knew I’d have to watch this one closely.
As she grew up, she started crafting, making wallets out of duct tape (a real thing with 11-year- old girls), and putting burn marks in her bedroom floor with a glue gun as she built stuff. She also did well in school, eventually earning the physics award at her high school.
Then came the question. What to do with all of this talent?
Her guidance counselors gave her the old, “What do you want to do?” speech, and guided her toward prestigious universities.
I tried to help, but, coming from the business world, my knowledge of careers where people make stuff is fairly limited. She interned at a friend’s engineering and architectural firm, and decided that mechanical engineering was the way to go.
Six weeks into her freshman year at Georgia Tech, she called to let me know she’d found the perfect major – Industrial Design.
“Great! What do they do?” I said.
The basic answer: An engineer develops how cell phones communicate, but an industrial designer develops the physical unit.
It’s been a perfect fit. I applaud Georgia Tech for helping her change majors and catch up with her classmates.
She and her peers tackle real-world problems, designing and building prototypes of solutions almost every semester.
Last week, she and a teammate competed in the final round of “Inventure,” which the college kids call “American Idol for Nerds.”
The contest pits hundreds of college student inventors against each other and the field is progressively narrowed to six finalists. The winners got $20,000 and the university files a patent on their behalf. Second prize is $10,000 and a patent. She didn’t win, but it was thrilling to be there for the competition!
It was televised… on Georgia Public Television. Which gets back to my concern. We are hiding such careers and majors in plain sight, even though communication is cheap and video is easy.
With three kids in the house for the last 24 years, we’ve seen a lot of television. During that time, reality TV came into its own. Television programmers realized they could get millions of viewers without paying actors. Instead, they could have people actually compete to be on the shows. And yet, advertisers would still pay big bucks to sponsor the programming.
What a windfall!
With just a few celebrity judges, you can have thousands of people pour their hearts out on stage, looking for their big break. Think American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, etc.
At the same time, there’s always been sports on television, with ever-bigger contracts for players, as well as the standard fare of fiction thrown in.
I love sports, and I enjoy music. I’m glad we have both and that many young people aspire to those professions. But precious few people will earn a living in either of these areas, and thank goodness for that!
We need doctors, lawyers, accountants, bricklayers, carpenters, phlebotomists, police officers, writers, industrial designers, or guys like my colleagues Harry, Adam, Charles, Lance, and John, and a host of others to not only keep this country running, but to help us flourish in the years to come.
With the ability to shoot video on our phones, and television programming exploding through streaming services, why don’t we have shows dedicated to what is possible for the next generation, whether through competition or simply exploration, beyond playing fields and microphones?
On broadcast television, maybe the bar is too high. Program directors need shows that will attract five to 10 million viewers, and it’s hard to see where “Cool Careers” would draw such a crowd.
But streaming services are a different story. Making programs available this way is cheap. If the cost of production were equally cheap, then perhaps such a show would be worth the modest investment for Netflix, AppleTV, or even Amazon Prime.
The goal would be simple – expose kids to a host of opportunities that they’ve never heard of, but are vital to the health and growth of the nation, and then explain the path through either apprenticeships, vocational training, or college.
We’re great at telling kids they can be anything they want to be. We need to do a better job of giving them ideas as to what is possible.
Follow me on Twitter @