I have a great mechanic. His name is Steve. I treasure him like a lamp that has a genie that grants all my mechanical wishes. The man is a genius: efficient, effective and cheap. It is a pleasure to spend time with him, watching him work.
Sometimes I talk to him and tell him how he should expand his business. He doesn’t do tires, or cleaning, or interior repairs, or wheel alignment. I keep telling him he can raise his prices if he was more of a one-stop shop. I tell him I want to give him more of my money because I really don’t understand all this car stuff and I would rather be spending my time focusing on things that I know I am good at and that people pay me to do.
But this weekend I had an epiphany. After reading about how I should put myself out of a job I called Steve. I told him that I didn’t want him to be a one-stop shop anymore. I wanted him to teach me how to fix my car. I boldly announced “All you are is a tax on my driving. It’s time for you to realize how little value you really add! Steve, if you were a good mechanic you would be thinking about how to put yourself out of business!”
Steve said that I should come right over so that he could start to make himself obsolete. There was a twinkle in his voice that made me a bit uneasy, but I didn’t care because I was about to put Steve out of a job. I had important work to do.
I arrived confident of my ability to do whatever it is that Steve does. You see, I am a driver. I had never really thought of it until I read that great article, but the logic is unassailable: just like a manager manages people, and therefore needs to know everything there is to know about people, a driver drives a car, and so needs to know everything there is to know about cars. I used to just hop in the car and go, blithely confident that specialists would handle all the details. But I was completely wrong. If I could drive a car it was without a doubt: I could fix them, build them, design them, pave roads for them... I could do it all.
And let’s face it: how hard could it be? I mean Steve is no rocket scientist. He is a freakin’ mechanic for goodness sake. He turns a wrench and smears oil on himself to look busy. Time to take my rightful place as the master of my driver domain.
Steve started me out on some simple problems. He told me that I needed to gap the spark plugs and ensure that the throd bearing was seated properly. I scratched my head a little. I hadn’t figured that specialist would develop their own language to describe all the complexities associated with their craft. And frankly, I didn’t even know that spark plugs need to be gapped or what the hell a “throd bearing” was. No worries! I quickly picked up a hammer and started beating the crap out of the engine. I figured I would have gaps in spark plugs in no time. Pieces of engine quickly started flying all over the garage. I felt good. I was getting stuff done.
Steve smiled and waited. When I took a break to get an energy drink he patiently pointed out that a hammer wasn’t the right tool, and that in addition to understanding the problem I needed to fix, I would have to understand what tools to use, how to use them and even show a certain talent for understanding how to read engine diagrams diagnostic outputs. He sort of absently stated “You know, an engine is a pretty complex thing. You have to know how all this stuff fits together and how to get this baby to really purr.”
Oh Steve! You silly bastard!
“Steve, you don’t get it” I confidently replied “I am a driver. Experts have told me that as a driver I can and should know everything there is to know about driving a car.” He looked a little puzzled, so I decided to become more direct. “Everyone knows that mechanics are just hacks who work on cars because they can’t get a real job. This has got to be simple. I mean, I drive a car. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I would logically be good at everything associated with cars.”
Steve is a patient guy with a great sense of humor. He said “Of course! Tell you what.... here are all my tools, all my manuals, all my diagnostics, the keys to the shop and my phone number. Here is the web address of a course you can take about gaping spark plugs. You just go to it and give me a call when you need help!”
I expressed my gratitude and started to get back to work. As time passed, a shadow of a thought passed through my brain.
What if being a good driver doesn't mean what I think it does? What if the experts have just created a big mess because they are so focused on how broken mechanics are that they don't ever really ask what "being a good driver" means. What if a good driver is someone who focuses on core driving mechanics, handles stressful situations well and achieves their goal of delivering passengers safely to their destinations? My gosh, what if the experts, in their kind-hearted efforts to get me to be good at just about everything associated with cars, are actually making me a worse driver? What if there are people who have a real talent for fixing and building and designing cars, just like I have a real talent for driving them? Wouldn't it be better to find people who are the best at all of those things, so I could focus on being a better driver?
Nah! That can’t be right. Steve needs to work himself out of a job. That means I simply must be as good a mechanic as he is, or at least a functionally decent one. I got back to work, merrily banging away. Sure I had to call Steve a few times, and it took me forever to find the right information in the right manual, but after several days of hard work, I was done. I wearily turned over the starter, and watched as an electrical fire enveloped the engine block and destroyed everything I had worked for.
Dammit! Now I couldn’t be a driver because I didn’t have a car. Maybe I should just call Steve and have him do this the next time.
While waiting for the fire engines to leave, I had another epiphany. It turns out that getting Steve to work himself out of a job was expensive, risky and short-sighted. I thought just because I could drive I must know everything there is to know about cars. And back in the early days of cars that was probably true. But now the entire “car ecosystem”, with all its regulations, technology, options and complexities is way more than just turning a wrench. Its more than just having the right manual, or having access to the latest tools. It turns out that I need specialists to actually make my car run, to source raw materials, to hire designers, to set-up manufacturing facilities, pave roads, write laws and fill ‘er up when the car is empty.
Sitting around with Steve later that day, I decided to return to my earlier observation. “Steve, this car thing is pretty complex. You should offer me more services, not less. You should be positioning yourself as the guy who can get me the best possible driving experience, not just as a simple mechanic who makes difficult and complex work appear so easy it causes your customers to doubt your value and gives you a self-esteem complex. I know that you are going to bring on new technology so you spend less time doing all the old tuning and other grunt work you mechanics hate so much, but what do I care? As your customer, I just want the job done. Steve, you should realize that as all this stuff inevitably gets more complex and risky, and as transportation becomes ever more important to how our economy runs, that you should be looking to work your way into more jobs, not work your way out this one.”
Steve just looked at me and smiled. “Your a great customer Jeff” he said. “You just keep listening to the people who tell you how I should do my job better, and I’ll just keep taking more of your money.”