What do Home Depot, Turbo Tax and Web MD have in common? Besides sounding like the beginning of a bad joke, they are all brands that appeal to the Do It Yourselfer (yes, I just created a word). With some exceptions, the Do-it-yourselfer is the proverbial jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none who would rather spend his precious time dabbling in a little bit of this and a little bit of that rather than paying the perceived obnoxious fees the experts charge. While learning new things and having a general understanding of what is going on around you is a good thing, this mind-set can often do more harm than good. I have a few examples to illustrate.
My husband is a very intelligent man. I’m amazed at some of the things I’ve seen him accomplish over the years we’ve know each other. I am also amazed that he has self-diagnosed no less than a dozen medical conditions all with the help of Web MD. It’s kind of a running joke in our house now; “what condition does dad have today?” While Web MD can be very helpful in many cases, it’s advisable that one consult an actual physician or other health care provider to diagnose and treat a medical condition.
Another example I heard recently was a new parent telling a story about filing their personal tax return to include a dependent for the first time. He remarked how excited he was to see the numbers rolling up like a lottery jackpot while at the same time having no idea why.
Finally, I’m sure you’ve seen the leaning fence, the tilted storage shed, or the obscurely placed ramp all obviously built by the neighbor down the street.
Each of these cases demonstrate the DIY mentality of many who embark on projects with just enough knowledge to be dangerous. In other words, having just enough knowledge to create a bigger problem than the solution they are seeking. A person can spend countless hours worrying about a medical condition that may not actually exist, or worse not treat a condition that could be fatal. Every contractor will tell you that it is much more expensive to correct a problem than to have a project done right the first time. Finally, there is a good reason why the IRS has agents to audit tax returns and it’s not because the public at large has a thorough understanding of the US tax code. The general lack of knowledge has led to an average of over 1.5 million math errors reported on tax returns for the past two filing seasons. That number does not include other errors made on tax returns; only the average number of math errors.
Proverbs 15:22 in the New Living Translation says “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” There is a greater chance of success in any endeavor when collaborating with experts. In his book Business Secrets from the Bible, Rabbi Daniel Lapin describes business as the “most effective process of specialization”. People go into business with a specific product or service to offer to a particular group of people. Good business people become experts in whatever it is they are offering. It is this specialization that allows them to become profitable. Specialization decreases the amount of time and effort needed to accomplish a task. It increases the value of the offering and therefore, specialization also increases the profitability of the enterprise. From the customers’ point of view, specialization increases the credibility of the offer, it increases the perceived value of the offer and decreases the amount of time and effort needed to accomplish a task. Specialization benefits the business person and the customer in the same way.
So why do so many people use the DIY approach? There are some people who just like to try their hand at new things. There is nothing wrong with that. There are others who genuinely cannot afford to pay someone else to handle a particular project for them. The latter, in reality, is the minority. The truth is that people generally find a way to afford anything they really value. Truth is they do not value the expert’s education or experience enough to part with the money necessary to get that same experience and advice to work on their behalf. They feel like they have just enough knowledge, experience and education to do as good a job and save some money at the same time. The truth is this devaluation of the expert is often much more costly. Again referencing Rabbi Lapin’s book, he states that you will almost never see Jews in the driveway fixing their own cars or mowing their own lawns. Why? Because they understand the power of specialization. He goes on to say that if he employs the trained mechanic to perform maintenance on his vehicle and the ambitious young person down the street to mow his lawn, he has purchased his own valuable time to practice and perfect his own craft or trade. He also states that because of this he will certainly earn more money working in his own trade than he will trying to save a little here and there tinkering around in someone else’s space. Specialization adds to his wealth. It also adds to the wealth of the mechanic. Everybody wins.
There is a place for do-it-yourself projects. The truth is, that place is not in the area of true savings. When you hire a professional, you employ that professional’s knowledge, education, and experience for a fraction of the time and money it took them to obtain it. What the professional gives in return for your money is all of this, plus the value of your time. Time has value. What is yours worth?
Lapin, D. (2014). Introduction. In <i>Business secrets from the bible: Spiritual success strategies for financial abundance</i>. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.