May 26, 2009
The New York Times Magazine had an article this past Sunday, May 24, called “The Case for Working with Your Hands,” by Matthew B. Crawford.
It’s an excerpt from his new book Shop Class as Soulcraft, just published by Penguin.
Crawford is a motorcycle mechanic in Virginia, even though he has a Ph.D. in political philosophy. He’s a one-person business, and while he isn’t getting rich overnight, he loves his work because he’s solving real problems, his work requires intellectual rigor, and he has meaningful relationships with his customers. So much of his article resonated with me in terms of what we are doing at IvanExpert.
He contrasts his current job with being a middle manager at a corporation–“A manager has to make many decisions for which he is accountable. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business, however, his decisions can be reversed at any time by someone higher up the food chain (and there is always someone higher up the food chain).” This was my experience at various jobs as well: they were all places where my decisions were respected until I made one “wrong” one and then my competence was called into question, where the higher-ups made decisions that made zero sense and yet they had real effects on me and my team.
The similarities between his repair shop business and what we’re doing at IvanExpert are fascinating–we are not taking apart machines on a regular basis, as he is (although we do see the guts of the Mac more often than you might think), but what I feel good about with our work is the same: we’re helping people solve problems, we get to work with great clients, and the tech work as well as the running of the business require intelligence and thought.
For example, this paragraph applies just as easily to our work as it does to fixing a bike:
“Some diagnostic situations contain a lot of variables. Any given symptom may have several possible causes, and further, these causes may interact with one another and therefore be difficult to isolate. In deciding how to proceed, there often comes a point where you have to step back and get a larger gestalt….This is where it gets interesting. What you need now is the kind of judgement that arises only from experience; hunches rather than rules.”
Crawford recognizes his own expertise in his field, and he understands that expertise is not only about doing something again that you’ve done a thousand times before. The real value of expertise is that it allows you to take on challenges you haven’t dealt with before, and solve problems that others can’t, because your hunches are based on experience.
Our favorite clients understand this and appreciate that our expertise is what allows us to come up with creative solutions tailored specifically to their individual needs. Expertise means not being afraid of new challenges, it means embracing them in order to provide the perfect solution. Which is indeed a great reward for hard work.
As Crawford says, “A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world.”