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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Knowing How


My husband has a great story about an engineer who is called into the factory late one night to diagnose a problem with a machine that has stopped working, halting production.  (After observing my husband's work schedule, I might add that I am sure that it was late on a holiday or vacation evening, and that the engineer in question probably had to leave his wife to do this.)

He arrives and goes straight to the machine.  He looks at the workings, takes a few readings, asks a few questions of the operators and the skilled trades folks, and then takes out a Sharpie and makes a big black X on the side. 

"Open her up right there, and you'll see the problem," he says, giving directions about the part that needs replaced.  He then packs up and, five minutes after he arrives, departs.

The next day he sends a bill for $5,000, and the client is irate.  "What is this all about?  You were only here for five minutes and made an X!  I can't send this in for payment without some explanation of why it costs so much," the supervisor fumes.  So the engineer writes a revised bill and sends it right over:

Making an X:  $5
Knowing Where:  $4995

So, I hope you will see the connection when I point out that today's photo is of our air conditioning unit, which is humming along and cooling the house just fine, thank you.  That wasn't true a few days ago, when it stopped working in 95 degree heat.  Because my husband is, in fact, an electrical engineer, he went out, took a few readings, and diagnosed that we needed a new capacitor, which he ordered and installed.  Total cost, $37.  I'm sure I would have paid the HVAC service I use at least ten times that for the service call.

This is not to criticize the HVAC service or any other.  (In fact, my HVAC guys have talked me through a few crises gratis before coming out and charging me, so kudos to them.)  Instead, it is to point out that when you see the service charge on a bill, you are seeing the cost of "knowing how."  And this should give you a good idea of the skills you may want to acquire.  You don't have to learn electrical engineering, but can you learn enough basic wiring to install a new light fixture?  (Obligatory warning:  when messing with electricity, make sure you are doing it right.)  Can you learn to change the oil in your car?  Can you learn to make a meal so yummy you don't want to go out to eat as often?  Can you sew on a button and mend a hem?  Can you care for your body and reduce your health care costs?

Take a look at that service fee on your next bill, and see what skills you need to learn.  Can you be the one that "knows how?"
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1 comment:

  1. Such an excellent point. My husband is so darned handy with everything. He takes a stab at all the car repairs first. This week, it will cost us $37 for the part he is replacing plus a Saturday morning. The quote from the repair shop was $500.

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