Time magazine's "World's Most Influential People" edition is out on the newsstands now. While I recognize that these lists are incredibly arbitrary, built thoroughly on the foundation of whatever biases the publisher has, like everyone else I'm compelled to read them.
This year's Top 100 is fairly typical of its four predecessors – there's a noticeable emphasis on people involved in environmental and other favored social causes, as well as medical specialists. There are names you would expect on any list of influentials, such as George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, and names you just have to chuckle at, such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Some obvious choices pop up, but for strange reasons, like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, selected for his environmentalism. And there are, I'm happy to say, a smattering of top manufacturing executives, including Steve Jobs of Apple, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, India's Ratan Tata of Tata Motors, and GE's Jeffrey Immelt (whose company profile now stretches far beyond the manufacturing sector).
But my interest lies elsewhere. When reading these lists I generally skip through the big names and turn my focus to those behind-the-scenes innovators who help raise our living standards. Time's done a commendable job tracking down engineers and scientists and entrepreneurs who are making a difference not just on our health, but in the way we live our lives. Like Jeff Han, the computer science researcher who designed multi-touch sensing screens. We see political analysts and weathermen using these on TV today, but we'll be using them soon enough at home. And Mary Lou Jepsen, the creator of "One Laptop Per Child" who designed a solar-powered laptop with a wireless system that creates its own network – ideal for children in remote parts of the world. And Isaac Berzin, the chemical engineer who founded GreenFuel Technologies and now makes algae that not can be used as a biofuel but also gobbles up CO2 in power plants.
At NEMA we're fortunate to work regularly with individuals doing their own behind-the-scenes influencing – working on new lighting products that will reduce energy consumption, or traffic sensors that will reduce congestion and accidents, or new communications systems that link emergency services with schools and retirement homes. While these folks won't ever be recognized on such a scale as Time's "World's Most Influential People," we take heart in the fact that these individuals too are influencing the world.