From The Go-To Guy Chronicles: Uncommon Sense and The Spectator Mentality

hydraulics manualsLast week I had cause to study a machine’s technical manual. I’m not sure whether it was lack of care in the original authorship or in the translation from Japanese to English, but the text was riddled with errors, omissions and ambiguities. The information it contained was so confusing I had to read each section several times to make any sense out of it. Thank goodness for standardized schematic symbols!

This is the type of document that Robert Pirsig, in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, describes as a ‘spectator manual’. He muses that the attitude toward the machine of the guy who wrote it-and usually, the mechanic or technician reading it, is that of a spectator: 

“Implicit in every line is the idea that, ‘Here is the machine isolated in time and in space from everything else in the universe. It has no relationship to you, you have no relationship to it, other than to turn certain switches, maintain [pressures], check for error conditions and so on.’ …Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.”

Now there’s an old-fashioned concept these days: caring about what you are doing. The thing is, if you don’t care, if you’re just a spectator reading a spectator manual, it doesn’t really matter. But if you DO care, if you’re a journeyman, a serious practitioner of the art, then having to wade through and decode a ‘spectator manual’ is incredibly frustrating.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of this ‘spectator’ mentality. If not in hydraulics, then almost certainly when trying to assemble a flat-packed gizmo in the home, from the hopelessly inadequate instructions provided. And witnessed it too. The mechanic or technician who cares about what he’s doing is easy to pick. So are the ones who don’t. It’s the difference between a tradesman and a craftsman. A tradesman will (usually) get the job done. A craftsman will do it with a certain flair, an almost artistic quality. Watching a tradesman work may cause you angst. Watching a craftsman gives you peace of mind.

Consider this (non-hydraulic) story sent to me by long-time member and ‘go-to’ guy Fred Thompson:

“I came across a tri-drive truck that had torn its tires off many times, blown diff after diff, through drives, and pulled the splines off the axles. It had cost the company close to one hundred thousand dollars in down time and shop repairs in one year. Plus the firing of good drivers that had nothing to do with the problem.

But no one had taken the time to check the diff. gear ratios – just put more parts in, only to have them fail time after time. I marked all the drive wheels at 6 o’clock after locking up the diff lockers and the power dividers, then drove the truck ahead on the gravel about two lengths and you and I both know what I found. The center diff was original with a ratio of 4.85 to 1 and the back and front were 5.38 to 1. The line sheet said 5.38 to 1. So guess what, like a bunch of sheep various mechanics had replaced each blown diff with the wrong ratio because no one had the brains to count the teeth on the pinion and the crown or check the number stamped on the pinion shafts for the gear ratios….”

This is a good example of the spectator mechanic/technician at work. “My job today is to rebuild this diff. So I’m gonna rebuild this diff. Then I’m gonna go home and sleep easy.” My observation is people are either engaged by problems–like a dog with a bone, or their not. I hate to think how much sleep I’ve lost over the years due to a hydraulics problem I couldn’t get off my mind and which kept me awake most of the night.

In a world where common sense is so uncommon, having it is a huge advantage. Similarly, in a world full of spectators — where a declining number seem to really engage in and think about what they’re doing, actually caring definitely makes you stand out. And to discover six costly mistakes you want to be sure to avoid with your hydraulic equipment, get “Six Costly Mistakes Most Hydraulics Users Make… And How You Can Avoid Them!” available for FREE download here.

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