Auto Service World
News   August 12, 2010   by CARS Magazine

The Power of Thought

The large majority of automotive technicians, shop owners and service advisors I meet in the course of my work...


The large majority of automotive technicians, shop owners and service advisors I meet in the course of my work are highly intelligent individuals. Having said that, I find many of them don’t feel intelligent when it comes to the “business” side of things. Shop owners tell me they feel intimidated by income statements, margins and “all that numbers” stuff. They also don’t feel they have the skill to perform all the human resources functions required by their company. These same people can diagnose a difficult electrical problem in minutes, or rebuild a transmission or differential blind folded, something that would make their accountant’s head spin. The amount of knowledge a technician has and needs, to service and repair vehicles today, would fill a library as large as any lawyer’s. Yet when it comes to other book knowledge, why are they intimidated, insecure, or in some cases, disinterested?

This is a complex topic and I don’t want to pigeonhole people; but there are some good reasons why things are the way they are. The main reason is that as an industry we have attracted a disproportionate number of people with a particular learning style, in some cases particular learning disabilities and in many cases stereotyping by the education system. In a lot of ways this is a good thing because we have attracted the people we need because of their unique skills, but it is a challenge when they need to move beyond those skills into new or different ones. Let me elaborate.

Different Learning Styles

There are three main learning styles talked about in education circles. These are Visual, Auditory and Tactile/Kinesthetic. We all use multiple strategies to learn, but we each tend to lean towards one of these categories.

Visual Learners learn through seeing, or visualizing. They tend to think in terms of pictures and learn best with visual aids such as diagrams, illustrated textbooks, power points, videos, flipcharts and handouts.

Auditory Learners learn through listening and hearing information. They learn best at live lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. These learners often benefit from reading texts aloud or listening to audible books.

Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners learn through moving, doing and touching, they experience the world in a very physical way. These learners do best with a hands-on approach; they need to be physically involved. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods of time and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration. Educators at times do not recognize this and treat this as a behavioral problem rather than a teaching opportunity.

You can see how a Kinesthetic learner would make a great automotive technician, but possibly avoid other areas of business responsibility based on the fact that they have been told they are not smart or academic enough. This is especially true for those of you from my generation. If we could not cut it in the smart kids classes we were sent to shop class, there was no attempt to adapt to our learning styles. The education system has improved significantly in the last few years, but our industry is dealing with the challenges created in the past.

Secondly, there are conditions labeled learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. The language to describe this condition is changing from disability, to merely a description of how one’s brain is hardwired. Just like there are different types of engines, there are different types of brains. There are some informal studies that indicate up to 60 per cent of automotive technicians have some variation of one of these conditions. Some people consider dyslexia a gift. Dyslexic people are visual, spatial, and multi-dimensional thinkers. (Why do you think they can rebuild complex pieces of equipment so easily? If they take something apart, they can put it together. They also understand how it all works, by just watching it function). Dyslexic people are intuitive and very creative people and are great at hands-on learning.

Because they experience the world in pictures, understanding letters, numbers, symbols, and written words does not come as easy as it does to others. They do learn to read, and write, and do math when the teaching methods are geared to their unique hardwiring. However, this can mean a lot of hard work and in some cases frustration. So like anyone else would, we gravitate to our strengths and ignore the rest, until we become a shop owner and need to learn the business side of things.

Thirdly, there are many people regardless of learning style, or brain hardwiring who did not care for their school experience, never developed an interest in reading, or because they chose to follow an interest and career as an automotive technician were written off by teachers as non academic and where not coached or pushed to develop a love for reading, research or working with their minds as well as their hands.

Challenges ahead

My challenge to all of you technicians who have become shop owners, or aspire to be shop owners, is to first of all feel good about your intelligence and abilities; secondly to realize that it is okay not to understand something quickly or right away; and thirdly to find a way to work at learning and figuring out the new things you need to operate your businesses well.

There is a fourth thing you can do as well, hold those of us who teach, coach, train and facilitate accountable if you do not understand something. It is our responsibility to find creative ways to train and teach that reach all learning styles.

I trust that we now have a better understanding of why many people in our industry are frustrated or challenged in some way about learning how to run their businesses better. But now we need to move forward from that understanding.

Regardless of which category you fall in, you will have to make the time, and put in the effort to find a way to get the information you need and begin to learn the skills you need to run your businesses.

In the past, I have recommended countless books to people to read, and I get all kinds of excuses: I don’t have time, it’s boring, I don’t like to read, I don’t read very well or fast, I’m too tired at the end of the day. How much television do you watch in a week? Take a half hour a day to read instead of watching TV. Buy books on CD, some of you will find it easier to listen to a book than to read one. These can be purchased at most bookstores, online bookstores, or companies like “Audible.com” where you can download books at great prices.

Do you have a half hour drive to work? Listen to a book in your vehicle. Just start reading, it is like anything, you get better at it the more you do it. My first recommendation for anyone in business is the book, “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber. It is interesting, fun and inspiring.

There is a lot of online training available from all of your suppliers, much of it created by CARS-On Demand. Again, it will take discipline to break away during the day, or to set time aside in the early morning or in the evening to take these on-line courses. However, for some of you this will be easier and more interesting than reading a book. The nice thing about these courses is that they are usually two hours long or less, and if you want to, you can stop and come back to where you left off.

I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I am passionate about sharing the joy I have in learning with others. There is a lot of power in the use of intuition and thought, use your entire mind, you are intelligent, you know more than you think you know.

You need to learn how to find the information you need and then make the effort and take the
time to learn. This is more mind work than handwork, but the rewards make our handwork pay off and pay better.