The Parable of the Ship Mechanic

atkins-bookshelf-educationA prominent shipping line faced a critical problem: their largest shipping vessel, responsible for transporting millions of dollars of cargo each month, was stuck at the dry dock with a failed engine. Each day the ship was not at sea was costing the company more than $100,000 per day. The shipping company called in all the best ship engine mechanics in the area. Four different mechanics came in and attempted to make repairs to no avail; they left completely stumped. After three weeks, and spending $40,000 on recommended repairs, the ship’s engine still did not work.

The ship’s captain finally remembered the name of a retired ship engine mechanic who had an impeccable reputation. No matter how severe the engine problem was, it was said, Benjamin could fix it. After several phone calls, the captain reached him. Benjamin arrived the next day, and although he was twice the age of the previous mechanics, he promptly climbed all around the massive engine, carefully inspecting all of its key components. He reviewed the control panel and all the power lines. About an hour later, Benjamin had a strong suspicion about where to find the source of the problem. He opened up the main power housing, removed a number of circuit boards, and then moved a number of bundled cables aside to reach the problem. Benjamin reached for his pliers, a large wire nut, and electric tape and began splicing two thick wires. He re-assembled the power housing, and within minutes the ship engine was up and running.

On his way out, Benjamin handed the business office his invoice. It consisted of one line: “Repair of ship engine: $10,000.” Later that afternoon, the invoice was forwarded to the VP of Operations of the shipping company. “This is outrageous!” yelled the VP, “The man was here for only one hour and I heard that he simply connected two wires. Contact him and tell him we need a fully itemized bill before we will pay it.”

A day later, the ship mechanic sent in the following itemized invoice:
Travel time: $90
Materials: $10
Knowing which wires to splice: $9,900

Needless to say, the bill was promptly paid.

The moral of the story: never underestimate the value of experience.

This story was inspired by a posting by an unknown author several years ago. The uncredited story abounds on the internet, going by various titles: The Value of Experience, Never Underestimate Experience, The Ship Repairman Story, Why Experts Get Paid More, The Ship Mechanic’s Invoice, and Knowing Where to Tap.

Read related posts: The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son
The Mayonnaise Jar and Cups of Coffee
The Wisdom of a Grandparent
The Wisdom of Parents
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac



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