All action involves the employment of scarce means to attain the most valued ends. Man has the choice of using the scarce means for various alternative ends, and the ends that he chooses are the ones he values most highly. The less urgent wants are those that remain unsatisfied.
Troubleshooting seems to involve a lot of doing: preparing your workspace, taking things apart, looking for malfunctioning components, ordering parts, the turning of wrenches, etc. You take positive action while fixing something: you choose a plan, execute it, and then assess the results. Following a particular path in this way, from beginning to end, may make it seem like repair is primarily a linear, physical process. However, the organizing concept for a troubleshooting project exists solely in your mind: by selecting a mental model to guide your repairs, you’ve decided how a machine should work and therefore the standard by which you’ll be judging the outcome.
But before you’ve chosen a conceptual guide for your actions, before a single screw is loosened, you’ve made a much more important judgement. By selecting a specific repair path, you’re implicitly saying that it’s the best among all your available options. For example, you might perceive those lesser alternatives to be: replacing the failed machine with a new one, quitting your job (if you’re fixing something for work), checking your email, watching YouTube, going to lunch, or staring out the window. Whatever other pathways you’ve envisioned, attempting a particular repair is asserting, “I think this is better than A, B, or C.”
We often make choices because of momentum, or a sense of obligation, or because we don’t know any better. We are also limited by what we think is plausible: if you can’t conceive of something as a possibility, you’re unlikely to pursue it. This is why repair is actually a problem for the imagination. When troubleshooting, I always try to keep the end goal in mind. Counterintuitively, being true to the underlying purpose of why you’re fixing something is a constraint that will free your creativity. You’ll begin to see all kinds of possibilities, some of which won’t involve fixing the broken thing at all! Early in the troubleshooting process, the leverage from a clever redirection can be astounding—a good idea can save countless hours of work.
Your ability to optimize reality at the speed of thought is a precious gift. Cultivating it requires a balance of internal quiescence and the clever reuse of external stimuli. Your mind must be still enough so that your flashes of brilliance aren’t drowned out by distracting chatter. Engagement with the world provides the building blocks for these inspirations: be an artist that mixes lessons from your own doings, good ideas from other people, books you’re reading, and careful observations of the world. When a brilliant rearrangement short circuits a bad plan, instantly cutting an easy path to victory, there will be plenty of time for a nap.
I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.