I love watching – on TV, YouTube or even live – things either being put together or being taken apart. There are two forces at work here – curiosity and trust. Don’t know which one is more important. I hope writing down these ideas will help me figure it out.
My dad would get a flat tire. The shop owner would take the inner tube out and apply a patch that would transfer from a little metal tray by burning a cork like material on the other side of the tray. Since I used glue to patch the inner tubes of a lot of bikes in my street growing up, I was surprised when I first saw how they patched car inner tubes with these hot patches. At some point later down the road, I was very surprised as a teenager, when I learned that car wheel and tire technology had advanced to the point where you did not need inner tubes. The patch would go on the inside of the tire – what a concept. You could also get a rubber plug essentially punched into the hole. To an outsider, or a young child, or someone who has no clue about the innards of a car tire, repairing it that way looked exactly the opposite – like you’re trying to destroy it. Bring the tire, have someone stab it with a sharp pointy tool, and it’s fixed!
How about hot patching an inner bicycle tube? Tried it. If it worked on the car tube, it must work wonders on a smaller bicycle tube, I thought. Had to come up with a contraption to keep the little metal tray to which the patch was attached in position pressed against the tube as I lit it with a match – trying not to cause a bigger fire. It worked, but I digress.
I had a major engine failure in the first car I bought. It was used. I was nudged into buying it, and I never held a grudge, because at the end I made the final decision. It turned out to be a lemon. I took it to a shop, they needed to machine the crankshaft and replace the piston rods. I picked it up a few days later. About a year after the repair, it failed again. I was devastated. One of my buddies from work sent me to his mechanic. He fixed it. He told me that the bearings on the crankshaft were incorrectly fitted. I told him which shop had fixed it before. He said: “I’ve heard stories from that shop of parts cannibalized from a failed engine from a car and installed on the car next to it.”
Integrity, as you may have heard, is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. As a kid, I watched things being put together or taken apart out of curiosity. Whether it was the appliance repair man fixing the washer or the dryer, the mechanic repairing and balancing the tires, the mason building a wall in the new home addition, the plumber installing new faucets, the cashier punching the prices at the local supermarket, the bank teller feeding the bill counter behind the desk or sorting the coins in the machine, the technician unjamming the copier at school, the lineman climbing the electrical pole in the yard, the guys digging a ditch to lay a pipe in front of the house, the gardener shaping a hedge, the piano tuner who my grandmother would serve coffee to, I had to know it all! As an adult, I watch so I can build trust on those who serve me. Once I get convinced I can trust, I don’t need to watch as closely. Markets work that way.
You see, we don’t have a lot of time anymore to sit around and watch how things are put together. The only fixes to my addiction I get time for now are the Big Texas Fix and Barnwood Builders, thank God for that. What we need to be watchful for, as innovators and entrepreneurs, is perhaps how things are not being put together, believe it or not. Forget about how things work. What is there that does not work? What are the things we, as humans, as individuals, as consumers with needs, have trouble putting together, getting done? Few people look at this. Few are watching. These are the ones that get the insight, the scoop. They make it inherent in their nature to sit and watch others, everywhere they go, not to find out how things work, but how they don’t, and then to take that apart.