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Nov 11

The value of knowing where to hit it

I noticed this old story circulating again, recently.

It’s such a great illustration of what it is to be an expert and how others who may be expert in their own field, can miss and potentially undervalue expertise in others. 

You know the one – it’s about the expert engineer called in to fix the machine and the owner questioning his invoice. The punch line goes something like: “£55.00 for attending site and tapping the machine with my hammer – and £1,000 for knowing where to tap it”. 

We might sum expertise up, as the ability to notice, recognise and deal with things others simply miss. Expertise may not have direct monetary value. It may not be so complicated it can’t be understood by others when explained (“it’s not rocket science”) but it can nevertheless be remarkable. Another great example of what expertise is, was at the Olympics, in the diving pool. 

Watching the divers, we all became “arm-chair experts” looking at the slo-mo and replays, commenting on over rotation and “ooh that that must have stung!”. 

However, we were not judging, the judges were; and what is remarkable about them is that they didn’t see the replay in slow motion from all angles as we, the arm-chair experts did. They were making their decisions in those few seconds it took the divers to get from the platform to disappearing beneath the surface of the pool, based on their expertise and the ability to see the detail in a dive “in real time”. Quite clearly, they could see in that moment, so much we missed, often even after the replays! They are experts and that’s why they were in the position of making decisions that led to medals.

In business, wise operators will surround themselves with experts who complement their own knowledge and experience. They don’t try to cover all the bases (jack of all trades) but focus on what they do best, buying in advice, support and guidance through their network. They don’t see it as a distress purchase but an investment.  IT, HR, property, law, marketing and so on; they invest to the extent the experts deliver the benefits to offset the time, cost and stress of “winging it”.

Who wouldn’t rather have an acknowledged expert on their side when they step outside their core skill set? What will we miss that the expert will (1) see, (2) understand and (3) either turn into an advantage or perhaps compensate for to mitigate a downside? The worst case is that we never find that out and go on paying for the mistakes! In our opening example, that could be the difference between the broken machine firing up as before because the expert dealt with it, or it being replaced as unrepairable because the expert was thought “too expensive”; a potential cost difference far greater than the £1,000 the owner questioned.

What’s your favourite illustration of expertise?