America’s Greatest Natural Resource

Monday, August 15th, 2016 @ 12:00PM

Some say coal. Others say natural gas. A few say iron ore. Many say the land itself. Years ago, most everyone said oil. Good choices all. However, when it comes to natural resources, I say that which America is most blessed is the American mind.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to participate in an official tour of Robins Air Force Base. And I must say I was impressed – very impressed.

Truth is, I already knew the base fairly well before I went on the tour. During my 22 years in the military, I have had numerous occasions to go on the base. And, while chief of aviation medicine for the Georgia Army National Guard, I spent several monthly drills at the base performing flight physicals on Georgia Guard pilots. Further, I have flown in and out of Robins on several military missions through the years.

But this time, things were different. This time, I was on an official tour during which I was escorted to areas of the base I had not previously visited. And, as I said above, I was impressed – very impressed.

To put things in perspective, Robins Air Force Base can be described with numerous superlatives: it is the largest industrial complex in the state; it employs nearly 23,000 people; annual payroll is greater than $1.8 billion; total economic impact in Georgia is nearly $4.5 billion. Now that’s impressive – very impressive.

Robins has every type facility expected to be found on a major US Air Force base, and then some. There are gigantic hangars for gigantic airplanes; maintenance facilities; machine shops; office buildings, dining halls, and even clinics.

As the tour progressed, I began to consider the expertise necessary to operate such facilities, especially the maintenance and machine shops. The skill and experience possessed by the men and women working in those facilities was accumulated over many, many years. Such accumulated skill, referred to as “institutional learning” is difficult, if not impossible, to replace. “Institutional learning” isn’t the type of knowledge that is amenable to being written in instruction manuals. Rather, institutional learning is the accumulated experience of the people within an institution – a type of special, nuanced knowledge that allows an organization to operate efficiently and effectively.

Such institutional knowledge is stored in the mind rather than in manuals. And this knowledge must be passed from one generation to the next by direct involvement in the associated processes – put another way, during on-the-job-training. The value of this knowledge stored in the minds of America’s workers can be demonstrated somewhat in the following simple example: if all the tools and machinery at Robins Air Force Base suddenly disappeared, thus causing operations to come to a complete halt, the work stoppage would last only so long as it took to deliver new equipment. That’s because the workers would still be there ready to immediately apply their institutional knowledge to restart operations.

However, if all the employees disappeared, taking with them all their institutional knowledge, operations would not resume simply with the arrival of new workers – even if all the necessary instruction manuals were available. That’s because, as mentioned above, institutional knowledge is accumulated over time through long experience and stored in the mind, not written in manuals.

When considering the totality of institutional knowledge stored in the minds of America’s millions of skilled workers, it soon becomes obvious that it isn’t the tools but, rather, the minds that are the keys to America’s industrial, manufacturing, and agricultural success. America is great, not because of great coal or oil reserves but, rather, because of great minds filled with knowledge gained from experience. And America can remain great only so long as she takes full advantage of her most important natural resource – America’s minds.

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