Modify: The Ethiopian Way

I have always been impressed by the skills of panel beaters here in this country and elsewhere in Africa for that matter. Following a crash with your car, you can take it to the garage and after a while it will come out as if nothing happened. The dents are smoothened out, the fender is spray painted and off you go. Not so in so called developed economies where repairing the damage will cost more than replacing the whole door for example. This does not apply only for car body works but also for repairing electrical appliances for example. Bring your computer for repair and chances are you are advised to buy a new one instead. Here labour is cheaper and there are still workers and technicians who can do the job so it pays to have the damage repaired instead. What has become impossible in the West is still common here. In fact many things are done differently here than elsewhere, not always better though. Take your 4wd car to have the air of the tyres checked and they will be pumped up to a standard 3 Bar. When you want the pressure to be as indicated in the car manual, the answer will likely be that here we pump them to 3 Bar, unless you insist. This is Ethiopia. This is Africa. In any case, like I mentioned, the skills to still be able to do works that are no longer done elsewhere is admirable. The creativity and ability to modify things is to be nurtured indeed.

However, like with so many issues, there is always the downside of the matter as well. What you are good at can also become your trap. For example, if somebody is good at solving problems themselves , the flipside of the coin is that the same person may not be a good team player. If a manager or a teacher is good at maintaining discipline at the workplace or in the classroom, chances are that workers or pupils are scared of them. Too much of anything is never good, we need to know what the consequences are and be able to strike a balance. Buy your children a present for a special occasions and they will be surprised; overdo it and they will be spoiled. Focus on details and miss the bigger picture. Look only at the bigger picture and miss the details.

Back to our ability to modify things, I have observed that when relying on it too much very often leads to doing things not right in the first place. “We will fix that.” or “We will modify it” is a reply I hear far too often. Because it means that something has gone wrong to begin with. Things that go wrong include not paying sufficient attention to preparations and planning of what needs to be done, not following the instructions, carelessness, ignorance, impatience, using inferior materials, going for the cheaper option etc.

Go to a building site and observe how works are carried out. Chaotic most of the time. Not well coordinated and many mistakes are made that need to be corrected or modified later.

A wall is built and painted, just to be broken again by the electrician or the plumber. The steps of the stairs are unequal and need to be redone. Drainage pipes are too narrow and need to be replaced. The hot water boiler is fixed to the wall but doesn’t hang straight. All will be fixed later; all will be modified. But most of the works would not need fixing later or modification had they been done right in the first place.

Planning, preparation and coordination would go a long way preventing unnecessary waste of time, energy and money. These are the issues we need to learn to focus on if we want to achieve better results. And while plan “A” is ready to be carried out, it is good to have a plan “B” in case things turn out differently. Pausing and adjusting the plan is just as important as there are always hickups and unexpected developments. Expecting the unexpected helps in preventing crisis and effectively moving on. This the moment that our ability to modify and our creativity to make adjustments come in handy. Now planning can only be done properly if we know what the end result needs to look like. Next we need to know what our own role and that of other workers is in reaching the end result. Now we know what activities need to be carried out and in what order. And while the work is now underway, it is important to consistently monitor progress, figure out where things go different than planned and adjust the plan or modify effectively. With the end result in mind, chances are that it will now be reached in a more efficient way. Meanwhile we need to maintain order and coordination and keep doing things as planned and keep the need to make modifications to a minimum.