Finding meaning in stable/routine operation

 The course I mentioned last post talked a lot about communicating meaning in terms of concrete objectives, with very clear examples like NASA "we are going to put a man on the moon and bring him back again safely." Now as an engineer I've been more often involved in the design, build, and commissioning side of things, or a distinct process improvement for an existing facility. There's a concrete goal with a definite endpoint.

But what about ongoing operations? There is no endpoint, no time when you can say "congratulations everyone, we have achieved our goal!" or even track steps towards an end goal.

I've seen operational goals set such as producing or treating a certain number of units of whatever the facility does, but I don't find that inspiring... especially when the numbers are or seem arbitrary, and doubly so when the reward for meeting them is a more difficult target next time around.

So maybe considering the value in what the facility does and the value of having that constantly available would be more meaningful. Since I'm completely biased in favour of doing things which protect the environment and public health, I'll start with that category.

Take a sewage treatment plant as an example. Most people don't like thinking about them and like to smell them even less, but they're absolutely crucial to both public and environmental health. People's lives literally depend on them; without, every town above a certain size turns into a festering miasma of waste-transmitted disease. Cholera, for example, was a lot more deadly than people these days realize. This seems like, with accurate communication, some pretty meaningful work, even if it is stinky. I wish the general public would be more aware of just how important sewage treatment actually is, but that's a whole other post.

But how about a facility that produces things in the general category of "non essential stuff" - which really could be anything that exists to make the company owners money, and which they have to advertise to convince people they totally need it, really.




And this is about where I got hung up on this post, because I don't have a solution and I'm an engineer, I want to have at least a suggestion before I talk about something. So it sat for about a year as a draft, I've long since finished that course, and I don't have an answer to how to make work meaningful when I don't already think it is. Such is life, I guess; lots of people have been thinking about this topic and coming up with lots of blather. I think I'll stop before I add blather, and instead add only: I don't know.