Change is thrust upon us all

William Shakespeare wrote that some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. I hope he will forgive me when I twist his words and apply them to change. Some people are born embracing and seeking out change, some create significant change and, unfortunately, whether we like it or not, we all have change thrust upon us. Last month, I described how my view of the FA Cup had changed. This change occurred over time: it crept up slowly and steadily, rather than with the force or speed implied by ‘thrust’. I have also had to cope with some minor personal changes recently. Although they may seem trivial in light of national and international events, I will persist in describing them.

The first was the wrench of disposing of a number of books, though probably not as many as I should! Although I have embraced e-readers, I still have a great affection for books but, as I keep acquiring more, the finite size of my abode requires a cull to free up space. So, it was with some reluctance that I took a box of books down to the local charity shop. No doubt another trip will be thrust upon me at a later date. The other change I know will be greeted with hoots of derision among a large percentage of readers. The demise of Windows Vista has forced me to change my desktop PC! I am not against progress and enjoy the benefits of technology, but here I had something that was perfectly functional, still in good working order, did the tasks I demanded of it and, while it could have been faster, it was not prohibitively slow. Others decided to thrust change on me and I had to use my time and money to respond to this change.

I relate these changes not to elicit any sympathy (not much chance of that), but to illustrate that we have to react to change at all levels otherwise we can be negatively affected. In addition, while the rationale for the change, in the case of Vista a new and improved operating system, may be technically justified, there will always be other wider and possibly unpredicted implications: such as the need to buy new hardware and spend time setting it up. The Vista example does not illustrate this very well because the need to buy new products is a deliberate intention of the change. I recently read a review of a book by Philip Larrey, Connected World, in which an example at the other extreme of the spectrum was described. The manager of a factory, which had undergone a large automation investment, proudly told the union representative that the robots will never go on strike. The union representative agreed, but added that nor would they ever buy any of the factory’s products. Of course, businesses would never self-destruct in this way, would they?

Back in June 2006, writing about the need to make societal changes so that the uptake of engineering and science provides an accessible route to a desired lifestyle for youngsters whilst they are young, I referred to another book: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond. This book gave examples that show we are capable of self-destruction, for all the best reasons, obviously. At the time, I suggested that we needed more than just a few initiatives to encourage an interest and then to wait for market forces to change the situation. Since I wrote that eleven years ago, market forces have had little impact on the input into engineering and science. In fact, they have probably had a negative impact.

Whilst investigating a source of information, I came across a very relevant quotation, attributed to John Gardner ( “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
This works for me both as a comparison of engineering with the more ‘exalted’ professions and of the ‘humble’ activity of NDT with the more exalted computer-based analysis.

Change is inexorable. We have the initiatives and a lot of people are taking positive action to promote science and engineering both in general and in NDT in particular. We need to continue with these, but I suspect that the NDT profession also needs a big idea that will strongly influence wider attitudes. Otherwise, we may become another case study on why societies fail. I do not have the big idea. Maybe you can work it out. While you are doing that, I will be setting up my Vista replacement operating system. Of course, there may be a book that will help, so I may break off to go to the bookshop!

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of Amec Foster Wheeler or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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