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This afternoon, if the postal service tracking system is right, my camera returns to West Pawlet, after a few weeks in the camera hospital.

It was just after Christmas when I turned on my Canon DSLR to get the “no card in camera” message, despite the fact that there was big honkin’ 64MB card in there. None of the other, lesser cards I have worked either. So I sent the camera off for repair. The people were nice. The repair was inexpensive. It was just going to take a while till they got to me. I’ve felt pretty naked without the thing, since I carry it pretty much everywhere I go.

About the same time my laptop died. Yeah, when it rains, it pours. I ended up at Overstock.Com getting a nice refurbished machine. Or it would have been nice if it had worked. It seemed the shift key wasn’t functional. So they very helpfully sent another, and then when THAT one didn’t work, yet another. Don’t get me wrong, the people at Overstock went out of their way to help – expedited shipping, next day, not waiting til they got the old one back, and very substantial store credits for my trouble. By the time they were done, I had so many credits for the non-functional computers that I was able to buy quite a fine little (and new) machine for under $200. Their customer service was amazing, I’d buy there again, just not refurbished computers.

All in all, the cost was not much in terms of money. I didn’t end up spending a lot of money. It was the down time. You don’t realize how crippled you are without your tools.

I’m a paranoid broadcast guy, which means I tend to have two of anything important, just like TV stations do. And so I had a tiny netbook that let me keep writing, and some point and shoots that let me take pictures. But both were slow, limited and frankly, it is a good thing it was a holiday or I would have been seriously cramped getting any real work done. I was about as inefficient as a man can be.

By day’s end however, I’ll have both a working computer, and my camera. My primary tools for working and life will be back in place. But the whole episode has had me thinking about tools, and their importance, and the cost of scrimping on them.

I see this a lot with my clients, this scrimping on tools. And I have seen the cost.

For instance, I see a lot of clients who don’t want to hire a consult on their media facilities early in the process, despite the fact that studies show that for every dollar spent on a consultant early, three to five dollars is saved in the overall cost of the project in the long run. And I see clients who spend millions on projects with complex new facilities, scrimp on the training at the end, and watch them lose several times the cost of the training getting up to speed, and worse, often never grasping the full power of their equipment investments. I see it in marketing and sales too, clients who don’t want to invest in the tools to make things run smoother, saving money in the short run, but assuring they will spend several times that savings over time in inefficiencies and lost opportunities. I see people walk away from a personal or business coach/consultant when that one tool would in the long run save them time and money and the frustration of dead ends before they reach their goals.

The same is true of physical tools. Here’s something I have learned in the broadcast industry. It is always possible to do it cheaper, but that cheapness often has a cost. After thirty years watching my clients, the ones who are the flagships, who live year in and year out at the top of their fields, have invested in good tools and good systems.

And they didn’t wait until they became successful to make that investment – they made it from the very start, realizing that when you invest in good tools, you can do good work, and do it efficiently, freeing you to focus on the work, not the less efficient tools and “workarounds.”.

For example, with my main camera, I have worked with it long enough that I hardly have to look at it to work. My fingers know where to go, what to do to get the images I want. It’s second nature. My backup camera is older. I can get pictures from it, but everything takes longer as I think my way through the process. Everything takes longer. The focus sometimes is on the camera, not on the picture. And it shows in the work.

I live and work simply. But when it comes to my tools, the five or six things that are key to my work, I don’t compromise.And if I need help, I don’t go for the false economy of “working it out.”. And it is a false economy.

What are your key tools? Sometimes it’s not so easy to know which ones are important and which are less so. Many of my consultations and coachings begin with what’s important and what’s less important. And that is often not as easy to determine as you might think, because we have ideas of what’s important that are guided more by emotion, notions, and trends than a good hard look at what we want to do, and where we want to go.

Why? It’s hard to be honest with ourselves about what is important and what is less so. It’s the same for individuals or companies. We have preconceived notions of what’s important. And sometimes we have to revise those notions to move forward. Some of us can do it ourselves. Most of us need help, need tools – be it books, research or consultant/coaches. To not invest in those tools is to assure we don’t do whatever we do as well or as fast as we could. Much of my work, both in broadcast and in consulting, is helping people find the right tool for the job. Not just “a” tool, but the right tool for their situation, personality, goals and work. It’s the most rewarding thing I can do is help enable people to do their best work, whatever the field, because it sets them up for both success, and joy in that success.

I am glad to have my tools back. I feel like I have moved from surviving my work to being able to excel in it. Take a look at your own tools. Are they the right ones? Do they make you better at what you do? Do they let you do your work without wasting times and effort with work arounds. Think about them. Where would an investment make the most impact? Make that investment. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Me? I’m going out to take some pictures.

Be well, Travel Wisely.

Tom

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