Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Plant Tours: Knowledge Vs. Experience

In order to have a person truly understand something, it is often better to show them rather than merely tell them — to let them experience it not just read or hear about it.

In this pivotal scene of the 1997 movie “Good Will Hunting,” therapist Sean McGuire (played by Robin Williams) lays out the difference between knowledge and experience to Will Hunting (a rebellious math genius, played by Matt Damon, who has used his photographic memory to read a ton of highly academic books):

You’ve never been out of Boston.


So if I asked you about art, you could give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him I bet. Life’s work, criticisms, political aspirations. But you couldn’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling… You’re an orphan right?

(nods quietly)

Do you think I would presume to know the first thing about who you are because I read “Oliver Twist?”

[If you know the film, you realize I have severely edited Sean’s lines. I recommend you watch or read the full scene!]

There’s a public policy lesson here that SPI tries to employ through its plant tour program — in which we work with SPI member companies to bring legislators and other government officials on-site to see facilities in operation and discuss issues with employees.

While it is often said that the best way to differentiate the House from the Senate is to consider the House as “policy specialists” and the Senate as “policy generalists,” I would argue that neither body can truly be labeled a “specialist.” There were 7,336 bills introduced in the House during the last session of Congress. It is difficult to comprehend how one member, even with a staff, could be so well-versed in every issue to be labeled a “specialist.”

Certainly, SPI has plenty of face-to-face meetings with lawmakers and their staffs, and we leave behind policy briefs that educate about plastics’ contributions to the economy and society or our view of a key issue or bill. But would the member of Congress be better served by an issue one-pager or by actually experiencing it firsthand by visiting a plant?

So, build some good will (hunting?) with your elected officials with an SPI-coordinated plant tour. If you are interested in inviting a lawmaker to your facility, just let us know. Send us an e-mail and we’ll take care of the rest.

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