UNDERSTANDING THE BUSINESS
Business acumen, functional/technical skills, technical learning
We’ve learned a lot about working on vehicles over the years, but how much of what we’ve learned in the garage can be applied elsewhere in our lives? The rest of the world thinks what we do is just “playing with cars.” Today, we’re changing that story. Today, we start looking at modifying our lives through the lens of modifying our machines.
Welcome to the first of what I hope will be 26 or so installments dedicated to GBXM fulfilling the high performance lives part of our promise/mission over the course of the year. Today, we begin by talking about three competencies you’ve probably already mastered learning about your favorite vehicle and mod path – business acumen, technical skills, and technical learning. Are you ready to think about how these apply to your life and career beyond vehicles?
I’m tagging all of these articles #67 (for the 67 competencies we’ll be exploring together). You’ll find a #67 linking to the complete listing of all the articles at both the beginning and end of each installment so you can explore things
Disclaimer: Remember, I don’t have the official Lominger documentation for this, nor am I a licensed consultant. These articles are merely my personal, high level exploration of the 67 Lominger competencies in name only, as listed all over the internet, and should not be construed as being the intellectual property of or otherwise endorsed by Korn/Ferry.
WHATTA YOU WANNA DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
Let’s assume, for a moment, you’ve got a solid idea what you want to do with your life. You started with the big question – If I didn’t have to worry about money, what would I spend my days doing? – and dug deeper, exploring the reasons why you’d spend your days doing that. That is to say, you’re not coming into this looking for an easy way to start drinking and cruising the world on your Raymond Luxury Yacht tomorrow.
Not that you shouldn’t dream big. By all means! If you want to be a professional alcoholic playboy, then I say go for it. I’d be willing to bet the folks getting loaded whilst sailing the seven seas on their 8-figure ships are spending their fortunes on that sort of thing – not making them – but hey, it’s not my dream. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m talking about something you could see yourself getting out of bed and doing every day to pay the bills (and ideally have enough left over to live pretty comfortably). Think: dream job. With me?
 BUSINESS ACUMEN
keen insight; shrewdness:
“remarkable acumen in business matters”
I think this might be the simplest definition I’ve ever seen on dictionary.com. It’s no coincidence their single example references business. Barring a magical shift of the global society to a bartering economy, (or glorious, people’s revolution, for my less than capitalist comrades), for most of us, making a living is going to require business. Simply put, the exchange of currency for a product or service of value.
Two primary angles from which to approach this (again, barring off-grid, squatter-stylee). If my dream is self-employment – running my own business, being my own boss – I need to know my stuff. I need a solid understanding of the industry, best practices, the latest trends, and I really need to understand the day-to-day operation of said business. The same applies if I want to advance my career working for others, be they public, private, corporate, or mom & pop type organizations. Whether I own the business or just work there, if I’m going to get ahead, I need more than just a basic idea what we do and how we do it, I need a keen insight into all the moving pieces that keep this machine running at peak performance.
THE ADDIE MODEL (OR SDLC)
Back when I worked in learning & professional development at Apollo Group, I learned about the ADDIE model. ADDIE stands for Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate. It’s very similar to the SDLC, or Software Development Life Cycle used by IT professionals. I’m going to build you an automotive metaphor on this showing you how you already have this down, okay? We’ll use ADDIE.
Think back to your first couple power-adding modifications, however small. Air intake, exhaust, boost controller, positive displacement blower on a crate engine – doesn’t matter. Your first mod. Whatever it was.
What did you do first? You probably analyzed the situation. How much power did you have before, which parts would deliver what results within your budget, then which brand was the best quality you could afford, etcetera. Basically, where were you before, where did you want to be after, and how best to bridge the gap between the two.
You designed your ultimate finished project in your mind’s eye. Maybe you’d build a quick, all motor car. Maybe you’d be shoveling boost into it with a massive turbo. Maybe you’d be lifting the front wheels at the Friday night drags. With that idea in mind, you began developing your mod path. You could see it in your mind. X would be your first modification, followed by Y, and then Z, as funds allowed. Talk about performance solution!
Implementation came next, as you began installing upgrades. Implementation is basically acting on your plans; following through. And as you progressed, you took the car out and evaluated the results. You strapped it to a dyno and spun the rollers or grabbed your helmet and danced with the lights at the track. With each improvement, you reflected back on your goals, re-analyzing things and tweaking the design, fine tuning the development of your project, and implementing new information and ideas along the way.
That’s how ADDIE works. You totally get it now, don’t you? This is just one of probably hundreds of things we’re really good at, being gearheads, we might never have thought could be useful in our professional lives. Imagine you’re interviewing for a job as a curriculum designer or looking to get some IT on your project management resume or even just looking to start advertising your landscaping job this summer. Pretty handy tool to have, right?
“I already do this, so what’s the point?” This isn’t rocket science, true. I’m just a big believer in our adapting skills we already use doing car-related things we enjoy to other areas of our lives. My point is we’re likely already doing stuff like this on a daily basis. Business acumen, to me, is all about the ability to tap our extensive, personal histories of automotive experience as a way of more easily learning – and mastering – the things we need to know to excel in our professional lives. We’ve already got some keen insights. This project is about getting more mileage out of them around non-gearheads.
Keen insight is more than just knowing Mitsubishi makes cars (and airplanes and lasers and air conditioners and, frankly, just about anything else you can think of). It’s knowing the brand’s history, culture, and ambitions. It’s knowing the company is 145 years old in 2015 (founded in 1870) and how Shoki Hoko, Shoji Komei, and Ritsugyo Boeki – Mitsubishi’s DNA – impacted their past (and what Ichimai-iwa means for their future).
Likewise bootstrapping a startup magazine. I might have bought a domain with the word “magazine” in it back in 2009, but that doesn’t mean I knew jack squat about running a magazine, let alone starting one, back then. Over the years, I’ve picked up a little of this and a little of that, eventually getting to where I am now – still mostly running a blog, but also publishing a real, actual magazine every now and then.
Anyone who got their start on a discussion forum will tell you, we are not our post counts. Facebook likes and Twitter follower counts are less meaningful than age. These are just numbers. We know this as fact, now. What we might not know, however, is that we’re not our resumes, either.
An oversimplified example to make a point. 24 hours in a day. You sleep 8 hours. How many hours are left? Easy. 16. Now, you work 8 hours. How many hours left? That’s right. 8. Give or take a couple hours for commuting or sleep, and not counting any days off in a week, we full-timers are looking at about a 50-50 split between time on the clock to fund the things we’d rather be doing.
With so much riding on our resumes these days, do you really think people considering you for a dream job should only be considering half your accomplishments? Look at me, for example. At press time, I’ve had three jobs in the last 6 years – training administration, knowledge management, and data center operations. I’m here to tell you I’ve had online car forum stuff on my resume for each of them. Shit you not, but look at my resume today, and you’ll see three jobs in 6 years, but you’ll also see I’ve been running Gearbox Magazine for over 5 of those years, at the same time.
There’s no escaping the importance of experience. Something like half your waking hours are spent getting really friggin’ good at something you really friggin’ care about. I’m not just writing about these competencies because I like to write. I’m sharing this stuff with you because I want to help gearheads like us – next level gearheads – capitalize on these traditionally non-resume experiences, which brings us to technical skills.
 FUNCTIONAL/TECHNICAL SKILLS
I remember my first engine rebuild. My base model, 1997 Eagle Talon had developed a persistent oil leak on the back of the engine. The dealership quoted me $1100 to replace the head gasket. For that kind of money, I bought a complete bottom end kit – forged pistons, rods, new bearings, pumps, belts, pulleys – and a new head gasket. I’d never done anything like this before, and it was pretty scary pulling the engine in my buddy’s mom’s backyard.
We got the block back from the machine shop, cleaned, bored, and ready for assembly. And then my buddy’s family took off to California for a long weekend. I had to get dropped off out front, walk around back to the alley, and hop the fence to assemble my first rotating assembly solo.
Here’s where things get embarrassing. Not having a feeler gauge or ring file – or even a way to go get one since I had been dropped off – and being just a year or so out from a job where I worked with box of shims to level electronics automation equipment within 0.0005” / 0.0127mm, I “eyeballed” my piston ring gaps.
More than a decade later, I still get shit for this at least a couple times a year. I deserve it, too. The engine went back together fine, otherwise, but inside of three months, it started smoking. Inside of 6 months, it started knocking and came right out. To this day, I don’t see how tight piston ring gaps could cause a spiral lock to fail on a wrist pin, resulting in piston wobble in the bore, and blame the randomly chosen machine shop that mated the pistons and rods, but I’ll never really know. Seven months later (another story, another day), my custom-order, Venolia slugs arrived and that engine is still running like a champ somewhere in the Phoenix metro.
Since then, I’ve lost count of all the engines I’ve rebuilt. Haven’t lost one since. The point is, we tend to pick up the technical skills we need to do things that are important to us without even really trying. And the more we use those skills in pursuit of things that are important to us, the better we get at them. That’s the real power in that guidance counselor question from the beginning. When we love what we do, we do more of it, and we “level up” faster. When we chase the money, we’re not necessarily chasing what we really want to do with our lives, which is a big part of why I’m doing this series.
THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
We want to improve our vehicles. Don’t we want to improve our lives too? Whether we want to work for ourselves or work for others, if we want to be the best we can be, we need to figure out what skills are required to excel in the roles we’re after. That’s why technical skills go hand in hand with business acumen.
No matter the end goal, it’s important we learn how to get a realistic picture of our target organization, where it stands, where it’s going, and what it will take to get there.
As a Mitsubishi man, I run into guys positively railing against MMC because, they’ve shifted from turbocharged, AWD vehicles to focus on hybrids and pure EVs. They’re oblivious to the fact that over 90% of Mitsubishi’s customers bought their more economical, 2WD models (or their 4WD, turbo diesel trucks, in markets where America’s “Big 3” can’t rig the game). They miss Mitsubishi’s longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship, and even the records they’ve been breaking year after year with their MiEV race cars.
To me, this is just stupid. If they really cared about Mitsubishi, in addition to buying a new Mitsubishi every once in a while (at least 60% of the people I surveyed once said they’d never bought a new Mitsubishi to begin with), they could take the time to pick up skills beyond the latest forum echo chamber sycophancy. They could learn how the automotive industry works. They could read up on the challenges faced by car manufacturers these days with regards to tightening emissions standards, stagnating wages, and longer buying cycles. If only 5% of car buyers are gearheads like us, how do we help our favorite brands sell more cars to the other 95% – without spelling the end of performance oriented models?
[ PS: If you’re reading this, Mitsubishi, Ichimai-iwa isn’t just an internal idea. A number of us long term owner-enthusiasts feel the same way. I’ve got some ideas on ways we can work together – at no cost to MMC beyond maybe a couple hours of MMC staffers’ time – but I’m all out of personal inroads on this end. It would be incredible to hear from you to discuss further. ]
What, specific technical skills do we ultimately need? I really couldn’t tell you, because it all depends on where each of us is looking to go. What I’ve found, though, in 5+ years talking to gearheads all over the world, is that we start with a very generic, high level search, then drill down as we start to better understand the big chunks.
The people at the very top of their games can explain not only the big picture, but take their stories and examples down as granular as their audience demands. Are you making a 10-second, “elevator pitch” to a potential investor? Are you being grilled in a panel interview for your dream job? If we can learn to discuss injector duty cycle, rod ratio, parasitic loss, and split-lap times with authority from reading and discussing with like-minded people online, we can certainly do the same with profit and loss, annual reports, lead generation, and employee engagement.
See what I mean? Then we use these skills, rookie level at first, sure, but over time we become more versed in the subject matter. We get that valuable experience and we start leveling up. 15 years ago, I was amazed by Indiglo gauge faces and projector headlights. (Shit you not.) 10 years ago, I was gung-ho about building a nasty, all-motor DSM. 5 years ago, I wanted to build a cool website where people could learn about cool cars. Today, I’m sitting at the computer, 2000+ words into the first in a 26+ part educational series meant to change gearheads lives. How far have you come in the last 10-15 years, ya know?
 TECHNICAL LEARNING
So how do we learn? You’ve probably heard about the 4 learning modalities by now. If not, it’s real simple. This is another one of those things you’re going to immediately understand from personal experience. The 4 modalities are as follows: visual (observing), auditory (listening), kinesthetic (moving), and tactile (touching). Some people learn best by watching someone else do it. Some prefer to hear someone explain how it’s done. Others prefer to go through the motions, walking through the steps on their own, while still others like to pick the thing up and maybe it take it apart to figure out how it works.
It’s probably pretty easy to spot your favorite right away, but it can change depending on what you’re learning. Sometimes we just need see someone do something to figure it out. Other times, like And learning is most powerful when we integrate all of them together.
I might watch a Rally Moto rider come around the bend at speed, standing up on the pegs, leaning out over the handlebars, rear wheel stepping out to one side, slinging dirt and gravel 50 feet into the air behind him, and decide I want to know how to do it, too. I’ve already watched him and seen his riding posture, but maybe I’ll track him down after the race and see if I can’t chat him up about what he’s thinking when he does that. After that, I might take my bike out on some back roads and try it at lower speeds, working my way up to something faster, until all the pieces come together, and I’m telling some guy how I do it after the race. (You know, if I wasn’t a total cager.)
FIGURING OUT HOW
I guess the big takeaway from all of this is that, learning is pretty easy when we see the value in having the knowledge and skills. For many of us, school was absolute drudgery. Sitting in an uncomfortable desk, listening to someone drone on and on about a bunch of stuff we just didn’t see as being very important. “A man runs 10mph for 30 minutes, then catches a bus going 45mph for 15 minutes. How far did he travel?” Who. Effing. Cares? But what size injectors should I run with my GT35-R if I don’t want to exceed 90% duty cycle at 50lbs/min airflow on my 2.4L inline-4?
We’re constantly learning about this stuff. Reading articles and forum posts, watching videos, meticulously comparing numbers on dyno and time slips. The biggest challenge to learning about things that interest us is often finding quality information to consume in the first place! Phones and tablets out, we’re learning on the couch watching TV, or waiting for a haircut, or while we’re flying off to our vacation destinations. We can’t get enough of this and you know why.
I can’t explain it as well as I would like, but I’m pretty sure you know what I mean. There’s a reason why we eat, sleep, and breathe automotive performance and adventure. Each of us is attracted to our own unique segment for specific reasons. Maybe it’s the thrill of speed or the rush of climbing over that boulder, the precision of assembling that race engine or the craftsmanship of a mirror fine paint finish. Even though our automotive interests might be wildly different, we all share the same, basic reason for being such voracious learners – we see something want for ourselves, we see meaningful value to learning more about it, and we quickly apply that knowledge in pursuit of our goals.
Yesterday, we had no idea what we were doing. Everything was scary because the stakes were high – we fixed it fast and cheap or we didn’t get to work or school on Monday. Today, the stakes are even higher, but we’re not scared anymore. Breakdowns are frustrating because of opportunity cost – what am I going to miss out on because I have to fix the damn thing this time?
Some of us go from being ultra-cautious early on to ultra-jaded later. This relatively lengthy opener on our exploration of the Lominger competencies stems from a single, 5+ years in the making, motive. Looking back on our gearhead experiences, I believe we can analyze why we learned so much so quickly – and continue to seek mastery of our chosen topics.
As we begin exploring how we’ve learned all we have over the years, we start seeing specific skill sets related to analysis, development, design, implementation, and evaluation. We begin to see how we diagnose root causes, research potential solutions, plan and manage projects, coordinate the logistics of people and materials, budget resources to make it all happen, and calculate the returns on our investments, whatever they may be. These are all technical skills highly sought after in the business world.
Like I said earlier, I’ve had unpaid gearhead stuff on my resume for years now and it’s served me well. I think you’ll know if you can do likewise, but even if you haven’t built wikis or started communities or magazines, I’d be willing to bet you’ve got dozens of examples you could use to answer tough questions on your next interview.
Tell me about a time you had to deal with a troublesome co-worker? How about that time you stepped into the discussion thread to defend the guy who was right in the face of weaksauce, straw man action? What would you consider your greatest weakness? Could you talk about the struggle to find compromise between making your car faster without letting its appearance slide and how you take steps to keep track of the big picture? See what I mean?
In closing, how about this one? (I actually use this on most of my cover letters, by the way.) Tell me a little bit about yourself. I’m a gearhead. I believe in work-life-parallel over work-life balance because I think the things we do to pay the bills should complement the things we do which generate the bills. Over the last 10 years, I’ve found I really enjoy X, Y, and Z in various automotive capacities and am actively seeking out opportunities to hone my skills in these outside the automotive realm – which is why we’re getting to know each other today.
We’ve learned a lot about working on vehicles over the years. Much of what we’ve learned in the garage can be applied to the rest of our lives. We just need the business acumen to start reviewing and communicating our gearhead experiences in terms business professionals can appreciate. The rest of the world thinks what we do is just “playing with cars.” Today, we’re changing that story. Today, we start looking at modifying our lives through the lens of modifying our machines.