“Hello! We are the three engineers! … And this is a story about a girl called Scout, who likes nothing more than to figure things out.”
And with that phrase, we are off on three children’s adventure stories. Via audio recordings and their matching, soon-to-be-released books, Scout thinks, plans, and goes with her friends on quests to find the missing bees, stop plastic accumulating on beaches, and arrest the decline of animals in her neighborhood.
But, also with that phrase, comes a very different adventure for the authors – three submarine engineers. Yes, submarine engineers. Three British friends and colleagues who decided one day over lunch (I want to say with a beer in hand) to try a new adventure, or to try as quoted: “The next crazy” – and to make a difference at the same time.
For us here in Climate Steps, the effort by these guys really piqued our interest. First, we want to find out what triggers people who want to make a difference to actually take that step to do something. Through understanding their journeys, Climate Steps hopes to motivate and enable others to take their first steps in climate action. Second, why did these guys focus not only on Scout taking action in her book, but give ideas to kids on how to plan to take action?
So, of course we had to interview these guys. What triggered these three Brits to take this very unusual step: Submarine engineers to children’s books authors about the environment? It turns out that it was very much “engineered” in a way, through their planning, as told below. 
So, this is a story (in three chapters) of three guys named, Jon, Matt, and Nick, who wanted no more than to figure things out, take action, and make a difference.
Fyi, I left in a lot of the idiosyncrasies that people use when talking, because it helps one imagine this conversation by three guys all in British accents. Content is edited for length and clarity.
Chapter 1 – “The Next Crazy”
One of the first questions is always, ‘how did you guys meet?’ But since you guys are all submarine engineers, I gather you all met at work.
Nick: We all met while working at the same company, where we became good friends, although Jon has now changed to a different one since then.
In my first interview with Nick, he mentioned that this whole book thing was inspired by a past adventure of yours, Jon. Similarly, The3Engineers website (www.the3engineers.com) mentions different adventures the three of you have had. Can you each talk about these briefly?
Jon: So, I rowed across the Atlantic a couple of years ago now, and then basically came back to work. [This was in 2017, and Jon rowed across the Atlantic with three other people.] And I guess it was a quite a few months, maybe six months or so, and I [already] wanted to do something different. We used to go to lunch together and always used to say, “let’s do something different.”
So wait, okay, why did you row the Atlantic?
Jon: God, I don’t know.
Nick: He’s still asking himself that.
Jon: I just wanted to do something amazing. I saw this clip of the race on YouTube. I just thought, “that’s absolutely insane. I’ve got to do that.” It went from there, really.
Inspiring, so yeah. As long as you survived…
Jon: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Nick: I think sometimes you forget how inspiring it is. Because it is NUTS.
Nick: Especially when you tell us the stories of things that went wrong.
Jon: Quite a lot went wrong. And yeah, it was absolutely mental. But good. Memories and amazing, amazing moments like [when] I saw whales and dolphins. Some of the storms were quite scary but beautiful, like the lightning. And it was really good. And I survived.
How long did it take you?
Jon: 50 days.
50 days. Okay. Yeah.
Nick: Two hours on; two hours off. That’s the bit that gets me because imagine…..Imagine rowing for two hours, then you get changed, eat. You go to sleep for an hour, and you are back up, and you’re doing that again?
You mentioned earlier on zoom to me, Nick, that you are an average guy, the school friend who hasn’t changed. But then you mentioned reaching the Everest base camp. What gives? And when was that – before or after Jon rowed the Atlantic?
Nick: Yeah, it was almost off the back [meaning ‘immediately following’]. Because Jon trumped me, I was, like, “well, I’m going to do something, but I’m not going do something that mental.” Right. Well, I love hiking. I love climbing mountains. So I did a load of research and just went with a friend – and hiked it. It was nowhere near as difficult as Jon’s adventure had been that way. It was a spectacular trip anyway.
And Matt, anything crazy that you’ve done? I mean, besides have children?
Laughter from all.
Matt: Kids. It is the craziest thing I’ve ever done. Harder than rowing the Atlantic. And it lasts for 18 years. [Discussion ensued about how it can last longer than that.] I did live in Canada for a while, which was really nice, but not crazy. I worked on Vancouver island for 18 months and got to go around that area for a bit and see the beautiful countryside.
The Canadians in our group will like to hear that.
Did you notice that the adventures all three of you mentioned have highlighted the outdoors? And your books are all about the environment, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be interviewing you. Have you always been interested in the outdoors and the environment?
Nick: I suppose I’ve been brought up on documentaries. David Attenborough. And I’ve always been fascinated with the natural environment. I guess, through my career, I could see similarities in the day job and the environment – how each system interlinks similar to the environment.” I think that’s just the way my brain works. So, when we considered doing something like this, it was taking an interest and then acting upon it.
Jon: Similar really, I always loved David Attenborough, and I was always taking an interest in the environment and being aware of the impending doom [dry laughter by all.] Mostly I had only done stuff under my control, like eating less meat. But [the book project] is my first thing that I have actively put out there and produced that kind of has an online presence.
Matt: I grew up in Cornwall, which is down in the southwest of England, by the beach and in the country. Similar to these guys, natural history and animals have been my interest from a really young age. My parents gave me a subscription to an encyclopedia with different animals, and we’d go out into the country and try and find them.
Then I moved to the city and saw that there was very little here to help wildlife thrive, and I could see the contrast. Also, having lived away from my hometown for so long now, since I was 18, when I go back, I can see a massive difference from when I was a child – the difference in the number of birds and in the amount of people and the building work that’s happening. It has encouraged me to try and do something. I don’t know if we’re ever going to stop ‘progress,’ but we can do it in a certain way to help with biodiversity and to help with the environment. So yeah, it’s about the natural world, really, for me as well.
So, let’s dive into the burning question. What precisely triggered you to take this next action of the children’s books together? Was it a piece of news, some other thing? Was it something your child said, or something that made you say, “we’re going to do this?”
Nick: I offered to help Jon do, “the next crazy”. Matt was also as interested.
Jon: Eventually [at a lunch], it was Matt, who said, “let’s actually do this, though. Instead of just talking about it again tomorrow.”
Matt: At first we didn’t know what to do. After discussing potentials for five Fridays, we decided to get serious. We dedicated Friday afternoons as the time to plan something.
Did you just have a meeting one Friday and a lightbulb went off in someone’s head for children’s books? Or were you holding a rhyming contest over beer and thought, “hey, that’s good, we should write that down”?
Matt: We set an agenda for each Friday, and they were quite structured. So, the first one, I think, we just brainstormed what we were interested in.
Jon: One day we talked about skills and talents.
Matt: We mapped it on Post-it notes – what we think of each other and what we could bring together.
[I LOVE THIS!]
Matt: Another we discussed was whether to find some income, and it got a bit more personal; we decided that if we were going to do anything, we needed to be able do it for free, because we need to enjoy it. But we also wanted to have an impact, and we wanted to help people – another decision.
Nick: We took an engineer’s approach. we set some principles about the project. Whatever we do, we’ve got to enjoy it. This spawned the creation of our first objective, which was to still be friends at the end of it; we can’t go into this and fall out. Then [we worked] to narrow to common interests.
There were so many different [possible] approaches. Jon wanted to do products for sustainability; Matt – podcasts and tech; myself – career advice to schools. We’ve all done STEM activities in schools, and I really, thoroughly enjoyed that type of work.
It was once we actually narrowed these down using different systems, tools, and templates, we sort of realized that our common interests were environment, health, and well-being, and technology as a facilitator.
Matt: And we then read all of these news stories that came out about the environment. There was loads of stuff going on with the weather then, like floods and mudslides…. And you just think, “why is that going on?” Well, there’s loads of those reasons why that is going on. And the environment sort of jumped to the top as like, well, that’s really important for everyone. Not for just people, either. It’s not just for the people but for the animals/wildlife/other species.
Nick: And then we brainstormed all of those topics using diagrams called spray diagrams.
Matt: Spray diagrams. Yeah.
I think that’s great because, you know, the environment touches everything. And that’s something that you found when you were doing this [exercise].
Nick: Off the back of that, we came up with loads of ideas like environmental games, a technology apps, and drones to plant trees, but found out this had already been done. Lots of different things like that, but they were outside our skill sets.
We scored 33 different ideas … such an engineer’s approach. We realigned what we could do based on our skill sets. And then it was really funny when we said let’s write a kid’s book, and we all looked at each other and then pissed ourselves laughing because none of us had those skill sets at all. I think most of the attraction for the idea of books was it already linked to our other interests on the technology and the educational sides, so it was just such a match.
Overall, this planning and storming took two and a half months in a café…
Join us for tomorrow’s installment: Research and Rhyming!
Oops, I had no electricity today, so now it’s really coming “tomorrow.”
“So it’s crazy not being able to hear the bees in the cherry trees.“
 This story has been a long time coming. I interviewed Nick in September, 2020, and then Nick, Jon, and Matt in October, in semi-formal interviews; semi-formal because I had the questions, but boy did we also laugh a lot. Then things came crashing down with an illness in my family. I want to thank the guys for their patience in my putting this interview together. But their progress in the meantime has been included now in the article.