First day back from holiday and lots to do: with a busy day planned, it was with a slightly familiar sinking feeling that the car failed to move this morning. Well, it did move, but with the handbrake stuck on, so not very far. The cause of the problem was obvious, but the skills to resolve it, far beyond me. This was unusual as typically mechanical car problems are a mystery to me: engine won’t start, weird noise like a compressed racoon, sudden and alarming list to starboard etc. In this case, the cause was clear but the solution beyond me.
When the mechanic came out, he hit some things with a hammer, unbolted something the size of a dustbin lid made of cast iron and, after the liberal application of some oil, we were back in business. “Have you tried doing some maintenance?” he asked. Um. No. Aside from the annual service and filling up the washer water.
Why? Because i would not have the first clue where to start. Certainly in a hundred years it would not have occurred to me to unbolt the propshaft and grease the handbrake, or whatever the dangly bit was that he greased. I bought the book once, the Haines manual for 1991 Land Rovers. The first page was an extended warning about the various acids and alkalis that lurked in every pipe or joint, the second page an exploded diagram of the car with around a million pieces, each one more elusive than the last. Not something for me to be tinkering with on a saturday morning.
I guess the lesson here is that we all specialise in something: that’s how communities work. Someone agrees to bake the bread everyday on the basis that they have some confidence that someone else is looking after the electricity. They both earn money to buy the products or services of the other, so, whilst my masculinity was challenged by failing to fix a simple mechanical issue, i can rest easy in the knowledge that i specialise elsewhere. No, don’t go asking the obvious awkward question: it’s been a busy enough day already…
We need communities: to learn, to live. Understanding how they form, how labour is divided, the specialist roles that we take and the paths we take towards that specialism is valuable. In an agile learning society, the value of your learning community has never been higher.