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The Power of Expertise

The Power of Expertise

| November 05, 2016

Have you ever had an experience where you thought you knew what you were doing, only to be shown by a true expert how much you didn’t know? Well, that happened to me recently, and I think I learned a valuable lesson.  Let me share it with you.

My wife and I love our house, and our neighborhood. We plan on staying there for a long time. However, there are quite a few home improvement projects that we want to get done. One of them that has been on the top of the list since the day we moved in has been to widen the driveway so that we have a little extra room to park the cars. 

Now without revealing my age (yet), I can tell you that I have previously owned a couple of homes, and I somewhat pride myself on being relatively handy, and a “jack of all trades.”  Over the course of my adventures in homeownership I have painted, plumbed sprinkler systems, laid sod, built fences, installed dog doors, changed toilets, laid tile and laminate, installed garbage disposals, mounted ceiling fans, put in doors, and laid paver patios.  I know a few things.

I have also poured quite a bit of concrete.  Needless to say, I know how to use a cement mixer, a bull float, and a trowel. And because of my previous “experience”, I thought that I should be able to easily handle this driveway widening project. I just needed a few extra hands to help me move the mud.  In my mind, 8 yards should have been easy.  How I was wrong!

Let me just preface this, I lucked out. For anyone who has poured concrete before, you know that if you aren’t careful it can get away from you and dry too quickly. And then you have a crappy, ruined concrete job. This could have been me.

However, my (wonderfully knowledgeable) wife had the foresight of realizing that I needed help, and making the connection with her friend to get me someone that really knew what they were doing. I’d like to thank Kevin for saving my bacon.

When Kevin showed up I thought we had everything lined up. The frames were up, the tools were out, the truck was ordered. Now we just needed to wait. Then he started asking me questions only a true expert would know.

“Did you order 5-sack or 6-sack?”

“What is the gravel mix, 50/50 right?”

“Did you have any accelerant added? Should be about 1%.”

“Did you have them mix with hot water?”

Within 10 minutes after he arrived, I went from feeling like “let’s do this!” to “oh, crap, what have I done.”  But, lucky for me, Kevin was a concrete guy. Pouring concrete was what he did every day. He was an expert.

Kevin knew the proper hand signals to direct the concrete truck driver how to back up onto the sidewalk without breaking it. He knew how much water to add to the mixture to get just the right texture. He knew how to coordinate the workers (myself, my dad, and my neighbor) to use our time efficiently so as to not have to pay a “standby delay charge,” which comes when you work too slow. (I undoubtedly would have paid one if Kevin wasn’t there.) Kevin did 90% of the finishing (cosmetic) work because he instinctively knew how to feel it, just like any artist knows the feel of their medium. He was truly a concrete artist.

At the end of the day, we got the concrete slab poured and it looks great! I’m very happy with how it turned out.  But if Kevin hadn’t showed up, I would have either screwed it up, or would probably be a lot less satisfied with the work.

So what did I learn from this experience? I am NOT a concrete expert. I am a concrete novice. Despite all of my past “experience”, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I got lucky.

The bottom line is that there are just some things that it is worth paying an expert. There is a reason they are an expert. They know the tricks of the trade. They have special knowledge or tools that the average person doesn’t have, or often doesn’t even know about.  And they have much more experience where they learned their craft.  That is how they became an expert.

I will suggest that there are many areas of your financial life where you are not an expert.  As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ I can say with reasonable confidence that I am an expert in the area of financial planning (and not concrete!) However, I am not an expert in preparing taxes or providing legal advice. I am not an expert in the area health insurance or special needs trusts. I must rely on those experts to help me and our clients in those areas where they are the experts.

So my takeaway is this. . . know what you are good at, what you are an expert at, and stick to that. Find and use others who are experts at the things that you are not an expert at, and pay them for it.  Your time and money will be better spent, and you will be happier for it in the long run.