Fixing the Wrong Problem

My mechanic mentor taught me, “Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgement.”

Those words ring true whether I’m doing creative work or shop work.

Automotive repair, like design, is process driven. And the process for each is remarkably similar:

  • Diagnose the problem
  • Determine what it will take to fix the problem
  • Select the appropriate tools for the job
  • Implement the solution in a methodical manner
  • Test your work

And of course, there are unforeseen snafus and sticky wickets that must be dealt with.

Setting up a torque wrench to the proper specifications.

Practicing my mechanic skills helps me design better because it works my troubleshooting/creative problem-solving muscles in a different way.

Over a few evenings, I replaced the struts on this Buick Enclave to fix a front-end clunk. I spent $360 on new struts, only to discover the real culprit was a $30 sway bar link, which would have taken less than an hour to replace if I was really hustling (and not shooting photos).

How did I make that error in diagnosis?

  • I rushed to conclusions and got tunnel vision.
  • I didn’t reference my service records.
  • I didn’t try the low/no-cost fix first. I should have checked all front-end suspension and steering bolts for proper torque. That’s a pretty simple process that has worked on my truck and costs exactly $0.
  • And I didn’t ask a buddy to rock the vehicle in the driveway so I could feel the moving parts from underneath. (Should have been the first step.)

“Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgement.”

I told my wife that I felt frustrated at the time and money I wasted in the process. She said, “You’re a competent mechanic, but you’re not a seasoned mechanic.”

She’s absolutely right. I’ve turned a few wrenches in the past two years, but I have to remember that there’s still a lot to learn.

A few weekends ago, I told my best friend, James Hartz, the same story and he said, “Yeah, but you learned a lot, right?”

As someone who touts the benefits of continuous learning to friends, family, and clients, I need that reminder.

Through these conversations I realized I give greater validity to the feeling of competence from flawless execution than I do the process of learning—even though the latter has more value in the long term.

Removing sway bar link from the strut mounting point.

Every mistake I made in this project cost something. But those costs pale in comparison to the value of what I learned. Here’s a short list of what I gained:

  • Knowing the Buick has brand new struts.
  • A reminder that I need to grow in patience.
  • Greater appreciation for up-front diagnosis.
  • A reminder that throwing parts at a problem is never a good idea.
  • A reminder of why good record-keeping and referencing is important.
  • More practice with flash photography in a complex lighting situation.
  • More practice with the remote and timer functions in the Canon Connect app (good for future shoots).
  • A story to tell.

It turns out that I gained much more than I realized.

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