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The Value of Expertise

Roughly half of my career as an IT and software development professional has been spent in the capacity of a consultant or freelancer. Part of that involved trading hours for dollars, but another aspect of my work has been providing solutions and being paid for those solutions regardless of how little or how long it took.

One of my favorite stories, likely apocryphal and without original attribution, is a legend among consultants and experts-for-hire. It goes something like this:

A manufacturer used a very large and expensive machine to make their product. One day the machine stopped working. None of the employees or managers could figure out how to get it working again. The company was losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost productivity. Something had to be done, fast!

On the advice of someone on the management team, they called in an expert from the outside. This individual arrived shortly after receiving the call. After being briefed on the problem, the expert carefully walked around the machine, listening and inspecting different parts of it.

After about 15 minutes of inspection, the expert asked that someone bring him a 10-pound hammer. The tool was produced, and taking it in his hands, the expert drew back and smacked the machine in a very particular spot.

Whirrr! The machine came to life and everyone cheered, quickly getting back to work.

Ten days later, the factory manager opened up the mail and saw an invoice from the expert. After looking at the amount due, he immediately called the expert on the phone.

“I just got your bill and I am flabbergasted and very angry.”

“What’s the problem?” the expert said, calmly.

“You have the audacity to charge us $2,000 when all you did was walk around the machine for 15 minutes and then smack it with a hammer. I could have done that!”

The expert politely said, “You aren’t paying me for 15 minutes worth of my time, like you do your bookkeepers or floor sweepers, and you aren’t paying me for my ability to swing a hammer like you do your workmen.”

“Then what exactly are you expecting me to pay you for?” the manager screamed into the phone.

“I restored to life a critical piece of machinery, without which you were losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost revenue. You are paying me for the value of what I gave you, produced through my years of expertise in knowing where to strike the machine and how hard.”

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