Virtues

Florence - Marble David in Piazza della Signoria
The Classical Virtues were prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. If you want extra credit, you can practice those too.
(image: Wikimedia Commons, license: CC BY 3.0)

This section is devoted to the behaviors and mindset of a great troubleshooter:

  • Skepticism: not getting sucked into other people’s false beliefs.
  • Listen Up: using all your senses.
  • Curiosity: become interested in the world around you.
  • Out Of Your Vulcan Mind: the importance of being organized, systematic, detail-oriented, and logical.
  • Creativity: recognizing the difference between machines and the purposes they serve. The many paths you can take to a repair.
  • Be Present: keeping yourself externally focused is critical, especially at the beginning of a troubleshooting exercise.
  • Setting Boundaries: deliberately choosing your commitments, setting expectations.

Why Talk About Virtue?

It may seem quaint to introduce a concept like “virtue,” especially in a book about fixing things. It’s probably even more confusing because troubleshooting is associated with machines, supposedly a world apart from humans. But, it’s essential to describe the attitude and character of a great troubleshooter, should you want to become one.

The cultivation of these traits are an equal partner to learning the strategies. If that makes it sound like this is a self-improvement program, then so be it. If you want to become a better troubleshooter, you will need to improve yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how—it doesn’t involve attending a clothing-optional “personal change workshop” with a charismatic guru named Ramu.

If you thought the mastery of troubleshooting was only about acquiring deep technical knowledge of a particular system, you’re mistaken. Coupling your expertise with the proper mindset and behaviors will allow you to leverage the familiarity you do possess, but will also take you well beyond the limits of your knowledge. Virtuous skills, like the ability to listen closely to someone reporting a problem, will increase your chances of fixing the failure even if you don’t know much about the particulars of a broken system. That’s because they:

  1. Direct your focus externally to the situation and facts at hand and put you closer to the actual problem.
  2. Draw upon internal resources that open up a new world of possibilities for finding a solution. This is useful for problems that have never been encountered before (i.e., there’s no book you can look in that will have the answer).

Some of the virtues may appear contradictory, like being creative versus being organized. If you practiced one to the exclusion of all others, you would be correct. Most virtues are like this: they are best exercised in moderation. Being hardworking is typically a good thing, until you work so hard that your spouse leaves and you have a heart attack because you’ve neglected your health. Likewise, being fun-loving is an attractive quality, but pursued single-mindedly might leave you bankrupt and living in a van…down by the river!

The goal of the virtues is to give you a choice in how you frame your actions while troubleshooting. Ideally, you’ll bounce between the virtues as the context requires. While brainstorming solutions and alternative workarounds, switching into a creative and playful mode will be ideal. When it comes time to collect and analyze data, systematic and organized is where you’ll want to be mentally. Achieve balance between the virtues and you will be a formidable troubleshooter.

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