One of the great entertainment values available to almost anyone with a cable television service is the History Channel. The volume and quality of wonderfully instructive and entertaining programming on offer is amazing. I have never watched a reality show, or a celebrity dancing display, but I rarely miss the exciting offerings of the History Channel.
Recently the channel has been immersed in the subject of Egyptian antiquities. The pharaohs, the pyramids, the Sphinx, sun temples, the Colossus of Rhoads and the Nile are beautifully described and narrated in an exciting, easy to understand presentation. After viewing programming on each topic, I ask myself a simple question: how did the Egyptians do it?
I am not alone in asking this question. There is no agreement among archaeologists and historians on how the ancient Egyptians accomplished the grand scale of building and creativity that is still on display to this day. The pyramids are particularly vexing as a construction puzzle.
The pharaoh's built the pyramids both as tombs for their entry into the after-life, and as visible statements of their greatness. As one pharaoh completed a pyramid and died, his successor, if young enough, immediately began to build an even larger, more visible pyramid. The placement of these massive edifices on the Giza plateau, their alignment with the sun and other monuments and the sheer scale of building that commenced almost 5000 years ago is astounding.
The pyramids were the tallest structures in the world until the birth of the modern skyscraper. For almost four thousand years nothing approaching their grand scale was built anywhere in the world. Without power tools to quarry stone, the combustion engine to move materials across the desert, cranes to leverage heavy materials to great height and electronic communications to co-ordinate logistics, these ancient builders created stunning works that stun and excite to this day. How did they do it?
There are many theories but no definitive answers to this question. Using massive manpower, primitive tools and the design techniques that were amazingly efficient and accurate, they achieved near miraculous levels of perfection. That the pyramids stand and amaze us still is testament to the genius of the ancient Egyptians. Is there a lesson here for modern man?
Let's just discuss United States infrastructure. We have the world's largest network of roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, waterways and ports. Most of this system was built over the last 150 years. Politicians and bureaucrats tell us that our infrastructure is failing and requires massive investments (taxes) to repair and enhance the system.
These same government types are responsible for maintaining these physical assets. They assess user fees, taxes, permits, license fees and special assessments ostensibly to cover the cost of maintenance of this invaluable infrastructure. The simple performance of regular scheduled maintenance would greatly reduce the physical decline of this plant that is so essential to commerce and transport. And yet, maintenance is deferred, supposedly dedicated infrastructure tax monies co-mingled with general revenues and we hear the constant whine that government funding is “cut to the bone".
Any infrastructure project in 21st century America will be held hostage by bureaucrats. Impact studies, environmental impact statements, committee reviews, permits, licensing, bonding, prevailing wage laws, lawsuits from concerned citizen groups and sheer bungling will ham string building progress. The Great Northern Railway was completed with private investment in 4 ½ years, using manpower, mules and dynamite in the 19th century. In my hometown there are simple paving projects that take that long to complete, and they will need to be rebuilt in a few years. The bed and rails of the Great Northern are still in use.
The World Trade Center is the most sterling example of our inability to proceed in a timely manner on a needed, important and psychologically crucial project. Seven years after the terrorist attack that brought these towers down, and transformed lifestyles: the site is still a hole in the ground. This is a national embarrassment that is symbolic of the perception (unfounded) that we have lost our national will to take risks and explore.
The ancient Egyptians built structures that have survived for 5000 years. They used the assets on hand at that time and created works that are tribute to the human capacity for work and creativity. The 2000 year-old Roman aqueduct and the Appian Way are still in use today. There is absolutely no reason that we need to replace and rebuild roads, schools and dams every few decades.
Utilizing the best modern materials and modern technologies should enable us to build and design for the very, very long haul. We need to create with the perspective that every structure will become a statement about contemporary Americans, our spirit and our strength. We need to stop building and thinking as a throw away society. The Egyptian's, and most ancient societies would be amazed at our attitudes about the monuments and edifices we build and do not appreciate enough to build well.
Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.
After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B. A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.
Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (http://www.duquesamarketing.com ) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.