Time vs. Output
This morning I had a plumber come to the house and replace a jammed up shower faucet. The entire process took ninety minutes. Five minutes of pleasantries on either end (a hello, some explaining, and then a goodbye), eighty minutes where the plumber left and went to three supply stores to get the right part, and another five minutes replacing the piece itself.
So, essentially, five minutes of actual labor, which basically involved him removing the old piece and snapping the new one into place.
It all looked terribly easy, but it will end up costing probably $150. And I’m fine with it. I’m not going to complain that their rate is $100/hour and it was really onlyfive minutes worth of labor, so it should really only cost me $12.
Because I didn’t pay the plumber for the time it took him to do it. I paid him for the knowledge he’s built up over years, that allowed him to come in, assess the situation, and know exactly what needed to be done before doing it.
I paid him for the talent that made it possible for him to do the job (and to do it right) in five minutes.
Could I have tried to do it myself? Sure. I could have bought the same part, at the same supply store, hacked my way to getting the piece off (likely with the wrong tools and wrong technique), and hacked my way to getting the new one on.
I probably would have saved a few bucks on the way to a less than ideal final product, and then probably would have had to pay double to the same plumber, just to have him come fix the mess I’d made.
When you’re in the service industry, the battle you most often fight, is not against other competing practitioners, but rather it’s against the potential clients who all think that they can do it themselves.
Whether it’s plumbing or creative strategy, you’re constantly fighting against the “that doesn’t seem so hard” arguments, and the “that didn’t take very long” arguments.
It’s a bit of a wank way to think about it, but you don’t pay for a piece of art, based on how long it took the artist to make it.
So why then, do we still evaluate these sorts of industries (services, skills, crafts, etc) in terms of billable hours and time taken, versus output?