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Knowing where to tap

There is the story of a man whose boiler broke down, after which he spent hours trying to come up with a way to fix it, only in vain. Finally, he gives in and calls an engineer to help repair the broken machine. Once the engineer arrives, he just spends a minute sizing up the boiler and then gives it a tap on the side, after which the boiler comes to life and starts working. When the engineer presents the man with the bill, he feels that the amount being charged is unfair and tells the engineer that he should only be charging a small fraction of it for the amount of time he spent fixing the boiler.


We have all been in this scenario where we find the charges outrageous for a seemingly small amount of work that someone does - especially in skilled labour and in knowledge work - be it a plumber or a lawyer or a doctor.

The engineer tells the man who hired him that he isn't charging him for the few minutes that he spent, but for the years of experience and expertise that enabled him to know exactly where to tap so as to fix the boiler.

We don't pay skilled workers for the time they spent doing the job, but for their expertise in identifying exactly what needs to be done in a situation.

Similarly, we shouldn't be evaluating ourselves on the amount of time we spend in doing something, but on the knowledge and expertise that we are gaining in doing so.

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