As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

My improbable hero, Mike Rowe

auto-6-dirtyjobsMike 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!

6 Responses to “My improbable hero, Mike Rowe”

  1. Michael Troiano

    I have a man crush on Mike Rowe. He is what every 10-year old boy wants to be – a jacked, sympathetic, smart-ass who wears workboots and spends his day cleaning up a filthy world.

  2. Daniel Weinreb

    Also, Mike Rowe has a wonderful style and personality. That’s what makes the show so fun to watch! He’s funny. I like the way he interacts with the people who do the dirty jobs. By the way, he also produces other shows on the Discovery Channel; evidently he’s even more talented than you can tell from just watching Dirty Jobs.

    I also love finding out about all the hidden machinery behind our lives. Centuries ago, just about all of the technology and processes that affected our lives strongly were local and easy to see. Nowadays, we depend on a huge infrastructure that we never see, rarely think about, and usually don’t even know the existence of. Dirty Jobs is a great way to find out how the world works and how many peoples’ hard work we all benefit from.

  3. julespieri

    @Mike “Man Crush” I love it.

    @Dan I totally agree. Mike Rowe has such a winning personality. I would want to hang around with him all day long. And yes….that “hidden machinery” is endlessly interesting.

  4. Scott E. Vines

    Mike’s an intelligent, funny, educated man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. I wish more of my fellow American men were like that. I suspect that the financial crisis, and our unsustainable consumption-based economy, will force our culture in the coming years to show more respect for men who actually make things.

  5. Scott E. Vines

    PS – Jules, I studied cultural anthropology in college and I’m an electrician by trade. Hence, my soft spot for Mike Rowe.

    • julespieri

      Scott….you sound like just the kind of guy Mike Rowe would like to know. And I share your hope for that new/old respect for the people who actually make things. You must have read the new Soulcraft book, no? You could probably write it!


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