Thank you HumbleMechanic – just in time

My summer holiday made me think about the difference between Just in Case and Just in Time learning.

Specifically, looking at the flat tyre on a Volkswagen Golf parked in a side street in Split, Croatia, on my own and 1,500 miles from the nearest Green Flag van made me wish that, at some point in my life, I’d changed the wheel on a car.  Maybe just before driving down to the Balkans would have been a good moment to practise.

Dripping with the sweat of a sultry July, and with the light starting to fade, I hauled out the spare tyre and some strange metal shapes embedded in foam.  I had never seen these things before.  The big one didn’t look big enough to be a jack.  One looked like a thing for removing the stones from olives (or the stones from horses’ hooves, who knows).

The fact that I managed to change the wheel over the next thirty minutes is entirely down to:

  • motivation: I was moving on the next day
  • the Volkswagen manual
  • my iPhone and the fact I had a signal
  • a North American guy called Charles, who has posted a wonderfully reassuring video on YouTube (HumbleMechanic) which explains that the Volkswagen car jack is bizarre and unusual, and actually shows how to use it, which is something that the Volkswagen manual doesn’t seem to consider important.

Much later on, I reflected that:

  • “Just in Case” learning is a term with a big, big range.  Learning how to change a wheel ten years ago, on a different car, and not practising since, wouldn’t have helped very much.  But practising two weeks previously would have helped enormously.  Idiot.  I was going to the Balkans, not Bournemouth.
  • “Just in Time” feels uncomfortably close to “Just Too Late”.
  • But “Just in Time” can work brilliantly and efficiently (especially with a charged battery, 3G, data and the ability not to panic)

The next morning, I also learnt that a Croatian car repair workshop can dig out a rusty nail, repair a tyre and straighten a wheel for £9.

Louie Dinh has an interesting take on Just in Case vs Just in Time on his blog.

Conclusion #1: the underlying skill of being able to find an answer, the confidence and ability to track an answer down, is the sort of superior skill we should all be learning – perhaps the most important skill in the digital age.

(You could compare it to the confidence and ability to ask for directions, as opposed to the ability to read a map – the latter skill being fine, except when you don’t have a map.  I think some women might make that comparison.  More of a map guy myself.)

Conclusion #2: posting answers on the internet is a highly under-valued form of teaching (thank you again, HumbleMechanic and Charles-with-the-strange-beard).

London cabbies still spend years learning “The Knowledge”, and good luck to them, memorising thousands of streets they’ll never drive down.  SatNav and Uber have attacked that model with their “just in time” accessibility for unskilled or differently-skilled drivers.

But we need to remember that “Just in Time” is only an uncharged battery or missing signal away from “Just Too Late”..

I kept the rusty nail as a souvenir of Split.

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