I was reflecting on things we find iconic and recalled a feature on NOVA from years ago. The documentary was intended to shed light on the builders of the Pyramids and their techniques, in an effort to better understand just what civilization had the ability and the knowledge to be able to construct these amazing structures.
A quote of Mark Lehner's from the website that I recalled from the segment was this:
I first went to Egypt in 1972 and ended up living there 13 years. I was imbued with ideas of Atlantis and Edgar Cayce and so on. So I went over, starting from that point of view, but everything I saw told me, day by day, year by year, that they were very human and the marks of humanity are everywhere on them.
What they found was that these craftsmen were actually pretty ordinary. They were able to apply certain techniques that employed an excellent knowledge of physics, and they were also able to utilize the resources on hand to handle certain aspects of the construction plan, and to obtain the appropriate resources necessary for other aspects as the year evolved.
But the thing that struck me was that these were, in fact, craftsmen, who were good at what they did, but they used what they had available at the time to overcome their hurdles, and they created something that has lasted for time immemorial.
While this might not sound very intriguing to you, it seems to me that they didn't have advanced engineering degrees back then. They didn't require the craftsmen to have a laundry list of certifications or other formal education. You could either do the job or you couldn't. And while that might, to some of you, be an indictment of the formal education requirements we put on people today, I suggest that it is instead that the ancient Egyptians probably could see pretty quickly if you had it or you didn't. You probably either had the aptitude to construct certain structural components correctly or you were assigned a different job, and that is a lesson to be learned for all of us.
My grandfather was a well-respected fire officer and fire marshal. He, however, had only a ninth-grade education and yet he was a chief fire officer at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and then at Warminster Naval Air Center, and also the Chief Fire Marshal for Montgomery County, PA until his death. Smokey had common sense, he had a feel for the job, he had been doing the job his whole life, and he was dedicated to it. He got to be very good at it, to the point where he was teaching others. He even has an award for leadership named in his honor.
Those kind of credentials wouldn't fly these days. Experiential knowledge only goes so far in a society where value is placed on where you went to school and who you know as a result. I am certainly not coming down on the need to have professional standards, but I also suggest that there were people who were doing the job long before a degree was required to do so and perhaps we should give a little credit to those individuals when they have something to say.
Scientific knowledge is becoming more and more important not necessarily because the way people have been doing things for years is wrong; the process is more necessary now in order to confirm we are right. Fires go out sometimes, despite our best efforts. We should be able to understand more correctly what it is we are doing that works, and what factors are on our side that have literally been saving our asses for years and we didn't even know it.
Credentials are important to reassure us that you at least had the discipline to follow a course of study long enough to get a lambskin out of it. But I think it is important to remind ourselves sometimes that at one point, there were no HAZMAT experts. There were no EMS experts. There were no US&R experts. These and many other subjects were discovered by individuals who had an idea, talked with others about it, and ran with their findings to develop a solution to a problem. These pioneers didn't say, "You know, we should really wait for someone to tell us how to do this". They did the legwork, they figured out the answers, and they created the disciplines that the rest of us aspire to today.
When you have a problem you think is unique, I would bet that you are not alone. Finding the answers to problems requires the courage to ask questions and to assert your desire to learn, not to sit on the bench because you don't have the piece of paper saying someone has conferred their perception of the problem on you. The way someone else handled the problem isn't necessarily the best way. Be a leader by being an innovator. Learn all about your job, treat it like the craft it is, and learn from each experience. The knowledge you gain and share with others can last as long as the Pyramids if you nurture it in the right people.