Stonecutter vs. Mechanic

The other week, my friend and I went skiing on Mount Baker—a glaciated volcano near the Canadian border. We cruised along gravel roads until I hit a pothole and broke the undercarriage cover off my Prius. I needed to hold up the cover to return home, so I kept adding duct tape until nothing moved. It was a persistent approach, enough to get us home, albeit temporary. Back in Seattle, I tried finding someone to fix this—but Toyota couldn’t service this for warranty reasons (weird), and other garages refused to repair it without significant ($$$) bodywork. A week later, I found an old-school mechanic that brainstormed several cheap, tenacious solutions to fix the cover.

Different problems require different solutions, but most fall into two categories:

  • Stonecutter (a persistence problem). A stonecutter taps thousands of times on a rock until the atomic pings split the stone. It doesn’t require ingenuity but a copious degree of grit and determination. Stonecutting was my approach to fixing the car via a hundred strips of duct tape.
  • Mechanic (a tenacity problem). To fix a broken car, a mechanic must try dozens of approaches to see what works. It requires inventiveness and the ability to remain unstuck. The guy who ultimately fixed my car was a true mechanic.

Ask yourself: Does this problem require persistence or tenacity?

  • Forming habits, endurance sports, tedious activities → stonecutter
  • Teaching, debugging, experiments → mechanic