Monday, July 13, 2009

A little knowledge

I drive an old car, and enjoy working on it myself, although I am no great shakes as a mechanic, knowing just enough (and owning enough manuals) to be dangerous. I find that the most important part of my efforts as an amateur mechanic are - similarly to my professional life - the thinking about things. The time I take to ponder over something that is not working properly is almost invariably better spent than the actual 'doing' part, and also makes that part more effective, and shorter. It is due partly to the fact that I'm a better thinker than I am a mechanic, but the more I think about it in advance, the less I spend time fixing my own mistakes.

For the difficult problems, I tend to take my car to a professional. The problem with this though, is that amateurs like me make the worst clients, since we think we know what we are doing, and we are a little sceptical of the professional's ability to really understand what is needed. The temptation is to test him to see if he really knows what he is about. Some people do this with consultants too. It's a bit like going to the doctor but only telling him half your symptoms, just to see how good he is. I sometimes experience the other side of the coin as a consultant. The thing to watch out for is clients with MBAs whose bookshelves are groaning with Tom Peters and Jack Welch. There is a natural scepticism when somebody walks into your office to advise you how to run your business. It can lead to friction, but I find that if they really get involved in the process, then it's great fun. The expert and the amateur can do great things if they just co-operate with each other. To go back to the car analogy - if you tell the mechanic whether you are planning on doing the school run or the Cannonball Run, then he's got something to work towards, and you'll both be happier with the result.