I was in a meeting recently with a customer team. It was on-site with 12 people ranging from mid-level engineers to upper management. Someone defended me earlier in the meeting by saying “Well, he did write a book on it!” Which was nice and kinda cool to hear someone say. But this lead to a later comeback by a crusty, principle engineer, 40 years under his belt, boat captain from “Jaws” kind of guy. “If we can buy your book then why do we need you?”
I took a moment. I knew that not responding wasn’t what I wanted to do but had to tread carefully because a poorly crafted response could easily sound arrogant. This is what I responded with…
That got everyone’s attention and set the stage for sharing something I had learned (multiple times) about specialists. The time I most remember it sinking in was after reading a consulting business book by Alan Weiss.
I let the puzzled “Where is he going with this?” set in for a bit
“Web MD has a list of symptoms and treatments for every disease and injury known. They are easily searchable and accurate.
Have you ever listened to someone who diagnosed themselves on Web MD? Pretty much they are just calling to tell you goodbye and what kind of flowers they want at the wake… oh wait… it also says it could be the flu. We don’t go to doctors because they hold some exclusive set of information.
We go because they have that information cataloged in their head along with years of experience diagnosing injury and illness. Years of observing all kinds of subtleties in symptoms, links between conditions, and access or knowledge to in-depth analysis on specific conditions. They also know the best approaches to healing the patient based on this same mix of knowledge and experience. Accurate diagnosis and prescription doesn’t come from books”
So here is the thing…. When I was saying all that stuff I was, in fact, rehashing a conversation I had with myself a long time ago. I am an engineer just like that guy, Engineers get things done, and we do it ourselves, we are creators, we can figure anything out.
And we do always get it done. But after feeling really proud of our recent accomplishment we may take a more objective look at what we have made. It probably doesn’t have the hallmarks of a “craftsman”. That’s great and all if you are going to keep it in your garage or show it off to your buddies but we have all been shot down by our “non-engineering” spouse who finally says “Remember last time? Let’s just go and buy one” The silent last part of that sentence is “from someone who does this as a professional”
So the advice that was in that Allan Weiss book that really improved how I do things is ” As a consultant take the advice you give your customers. Hire a specialist”
So I have learned this lesson many times. Here are a few that come to mind.
As the owner of a consulting business:
- Website (Why am I making a website? Yes, I can make one but it looks like a reliability engineer made a website.)
- Accounting (no explanation needed)
As a person:
- Autobody guy
- Auto Mechanic
- Sprinkler system design and install guy
- Doctor (“Glue and tape is not the same as stitches Mr Bahret”. “Well they were for about 4 hours which was all I needed to finish the HVAC ducting)
- HVAC ducting guy
- Doctor (“Seriously you were just here.” ” I couldn’t see where I was going while carrying the flooring”)
- Flooring guy
- Fence guy
- Doctor (“If you came in when it happened instead of using WebMD it probably wouldn’t be infected”)
- Chimney removal (Broke an axle on a trailer. Totally serious)
- Bed frame design