My wife bought a basketball standard this winter. It was on sale, our oldest son had been asking for one for months, and my wife is a great basketball player. The only problem: assembly required.
I grew up in a home with a handyman father. Literally. That’s how he made a living, after retiring from the Navy. He could fix anything, and his shop looked like the tool department at Sears, only bigger. As a result of this upbringing, I never learned to fix anything. When faced with tasks like the assembly of a basketball standard, therefore, my strategy is always simple and transparent: procrastination.
My secret hope is that someone else will do the deed — my parents are due to visit this spring — or that everyone will simply move on. Perhaps we could sell the basketball standard, still in the box, in a future garage sale?
Even though this procrastination is completely self-interested, I sometimes dress it up as a learning experience for my children. In this instance, I made a pitch for my son to befriend a neighbor — any neighbor! — who has an assembled basketball standard. No luck.
So last week my son and I went to the garage and began work on the assembly. As usual, the entire experience was punctuated by my mini-tirades against bad technical writers, horrible diagrams, and incompetent manufacturers. But the problem here is that I have absolutely no intuitions about how everything should fit together. I can count all of the relevant pieces, and I am reasonably good at reading directions closely, but I do not deal well with ambiguity in the instructions. In this instance, the result was several extra parts and pieces that didn’t fit. After several hours, I abandoned the backboard on the workbench and told my son we would give it another try later. Much later.
Today, a family friend and handyman extraordinaire came to our house to do some other work. “While you’re here, Mike, could you take a look at this?” It didn’t take him long to diagnose the problems. He saw immediately that the supports needed a part that I had neglected. Another part was on the wrong side of the backboard. He looked at the instructions, but he also had a great feel for how things should work. For the most part, he just knew when he was on the right path. The basketball standard now sits in our driveway, and my son will be home in an hour. He will be thrilled, and so will I. Another job successfully completed!
This experience seems to me like a nice parable, but I am sure you already realized that.