Knowing Where to Put the “X”

Knowing Where to Put the "X"

There is a story floating around out there about a retired mechanical engineer whose knowledge base was unrivaled. He could fix anything mechanical. He knew his trade better than anyone. He also knew that time does not equal expertise. Repeat: Time does not equal expertise.

After a decades-long career with his employer, he phased out of the workplace and into retirement. Years later, one of his former employer’s most critical manufacturing machines failed. His former employer tried to fix the problem internally with existing staff. That didn’t work. His former employer hired outside consultants. That didn’t work. His former employer tried calling in our retired mechanical hero. That didn’t quite work either.

Finally, after repeated pleadings, our protagonist agreed to take a shot at solving the problem. Within a day, he identified a defective part. He used a piece of chalk to write an “X” on it. “Replace that and you’ll be up and running again,” he said.

He was right. After replacing the part, the machine was back in business. He then sent his former employer an invoice for $50,000. Incensed by the audacity of this figure, his former employer demanded an itemized invoice.

Our hero happily created one:

  1. One chalk mark: $1
  2. Knowing where to put the “X”: $49,999

It’s not known whether he was compensated in full or even if this story is real, but it illustrates an important point: Time does not equal expertise. Your value comes from the time you have spent acquiring the knowledge, experience, and expertise to solve problems, not from how much time you spend solving the problem.

People like to argue that information is free. That’s false. Populated databases cost money. Mailing lists cost money. Qualified employees cost money. Outside consultants cost money. Knowledge costs money. Wisdom costs money.

You cost money. Don’t be afraid to own that because once you have acquired enough expertise to perform efficiently, you will have time to spend on the things that truly matter.

Originally published on LinkedIn, October 19, 2016