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In praise of bodgery

Posted on | Comments (6)

I admire bodgery. I don't just tolerate it as acceptable when there's no-one available with the skills to do the job properly, I value bodgery in its own right.

Bodgery is not knowing how to do something and going ahead and doing it anyway.

The person who knows how to do the job properly - let's call them the professional - has studied the craft; they've learnt from experience, both their own and others'. They have the accumulated knowledge of innumerable experts at their disposal. The bodger lacks this invaluable resource, instead drawing on what knowledge they do have, seeking ways to make their own experience relevant to the job in hand.

The professional has certain requirements they need met before starting a job: The correct tools and materials, that kind of thing. If the bodger lacks these things, they don't let that hold them back. They look at the resources that are available and adapt them to suit as far as possible. Rather than holding out for ideal conditions, the bodger will work with the situation as they find it. The bodger has a can-do attitude, whether or not they actually can.

Don't get me wrong, I do recognise the value of professionalism. This is what takes us beyond reinventing the wheel every time we need to take a load of heavy stuff from one place to another. Bodgery generally involves taking the long way round, whilst expert knowledge allows us to take short cuts. There's an apocryphal tale about the physicist Niels Bohr:

A company’s machine breaks down. The company’s owner, an old school chum of Niels Bohr, calls in the physicist for help in fixing it.

Bohr examines the machine. He draws an X on the side and says, “Hit it right here with a hammer.”

The company’s mechanic hits the machine with a hammer. It springs into action. The company’s owner thanks Niels Bohr profusely and sends him on his way.

A few days later, the owner receives an invoice from Bohr for $10,000. Shocked, the owner phones Bohr!

“Niels! What’s this $10,000 invoice? You were only here for 10 minutes! Send me a detailed invoice.”

Bohr agrees. A few days later, the company’s owner opens a new invoice.

Drawing X on the side of your machine $ 1
Knowing where to put the X $ 9,999

Total $ 10,000

The mechanic probably would have fixed the machine eventually, but Bohr's knowledge and understanding of the machine saved a great deal of time and as such, was highly valuable.

On the other hand, that story probably isn't true - there's a number of other versions and a quantum physicist isn't really the best person to ask when your machinery breaks down. If you need a machine fixing quickly - as in the situation where your factory depends on it - you call in a specialist in fixing machines, i.e. an engineer. If you called on a quantum physicist, you'd probably find that all of their knowledge, expertise, and general brilliance was not terribly relevant to finding the problem with your machine. Professionals are specialists.

In contrast, bodgers are generalists - "Jack of all trades and master of none." Their knowledge and experience is drawn from a range of fields and they turn it to a range of applications. Adaptability is central to bodgery.

Of course it's possible to be a professional in one field and also a bodger in other areas, but people vary in their inclination to bodge or not. Those inclined to professionalism hate to see a job done badly and won't tackle a task unless they're confident they can do it well. This can be limiting. A bodger may never achieve the highest standards, but is willing to have a go at pretty much anything.

Tackling jobs you don't know how to do is a risky endeavour: You might fail. You might damage something and make a situation worse. You'll almost certainly make some mistakes along the way and have to re-do things. A bodger learns by trial and error, and that means being willing to make errors. Many of us are too scared of failure to try new things, but the bodger takes that risk. They're flexible in adapting available resources to the job at hand and they start something without the expertise to assure them of success.

Bodgery is creative.

Bodgery is brave.

Comments (6)

  1. Geoff holman:
    Apr 10, 2021 at 05:56 PM

    A bodger was actually a very specialised turner of chair legs :-) How they got this reputation who knows. That said, I support and practice the art of the bodger,though HSE and co are trying hard to stamp it out.


    1. rseabrook:
      Apr 10, 2021 at 10:42 PM

      Well there's a thing I didn't know! Cheers, Geoff :-)


  2. Paul Campbell:
    Apr 10, 2021 at 06:29 PM

    A bodger is also a skilled craftsman in their own right. Sometimes they can do things that a professional can’t as they know short cuts that a professional wouldn’t do. Sure a bodger isn’t always the person for the job. You wouldn’t call a bodger in to operate on your broken leg, but for a lot of things someone with a can do attitude counts for a lot. Personally my professional skills are theology and IT. However I can do a lot of other things. I can cook pretty much whatever I turn my hand to, I can plaster walls and tile to an on standard, I can fix pipe work and brickwork so they are ok to look at. So yes I am a bodger at a lot of things but I’m a proud one at that so here’s to all the other bodgers out there, long may we all bodge things together and say it’s done


    1. rseabrook:
      Apr 10, 2021 at 10:54 PM

      Indeed, there are times when only a professional will do! Theology and IT - there's an interesting combination. It sounds like you've got a pretty wide range of bodgery skills, too. Here's to the bodgers!


  3. Elaine:
    Apr 11, 2021 at 10:17 AM

    No one wouldn’t call a bodger to set a broken leg but by the same token one wouldn’t call a doctor to perform the equally skilled task of turning a set of chair legs on a pole lathe.


    1. rseabrook:
      Apr 11, 2021 at 12:11 PM

      Human legs - chair legs - take care to call the appropriate professional!


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