The Parable of the Old Ship Builder

Over a decade ago, I wrote a parable to emphasize the importance of charging not only for your time, but your expertise. It is as true today as it was back then. Enjoy:

The Old Ship Builder

There was once an extremely large ship that was quite busy shipping freight from one continent to another. One day, this ship began to have problems. The engine was not running correctly and was making strange sounds.

“This cannot be happening,” said the ship’s captain, “we have cargo to ship and we are already behind schedule!” The ship’s captain, a firm believer in hiring experts to work for him, pondered on whom to hire to fix this problem. After over an hour of consideration, he decided to seek out the original builder of his ship.

The old builder, in his eighties by this time, just happened to live close by and was summoned to assess the problem and fix this ship. As he arrived, he walked through the crowd of young ship hands, mumbling under his breath about the incompetence of the work force these days and how the young crewman didn’t have any idea how to do anything.

He set his worn old toolbox down on the ground and opened the lid. Peering into the toolbox, one could see an assortment of ancient tools that had long outlived their usefulness and that most considered to be antiques. He then began to set about his work.

It was like watching a master pianist or violinist; he knew every nook and cranny like a master knew every note and key. He placed his ear on the bow and listened. He placed his hand on the engine and felt the vibrations. He smelled the exhaust that was coming from the engine. He put his fingers in the oil and rubbed them together. He tasted the oil.

Finally, after many long minutes of assessment, he went to his old toolbox and pulled out a large mallet. He went to the engine room, felt around on the engine for the proper spot and gave it one big whack. The engine sputtered a bit and then began to hum perfectly.

The old shipbuilder placed his mallet back in the toolbox and packed up. As he rose, he walked over to the captain and handed him a bill which said,

“Fixing Engine ……. $10,000”.

The captain was outraged. “All you did was hit it with a mallet! How can that be worth $10,000!” The old ship builder took the bill back from the captain, thought for a moment and scribbled on the paper. He handed it back to the captain. The bill read,

“Hitting Engine With Mallet ……… $100
Knowing Where to Hit Engine ….. $9900”

As a subject-matter expert, you have many years of combined experience in your craft. Your time and experience are valuable products for which you should charge accordingly.

What is your expertise worth?


4 thoughts on “The Parable of the Old Ship Builder

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