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Bump starts work until they don’t: the danger of using workarounds

Finding a quick, easy workaround for a problem can get you out of a jam. Just be sure to go back and find a more suitable long-term solution before the quick workaround becomes its own problem. My first car and its wonky starter is the perfect example of this principle. It was a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle, generally blue in a splotchy, patchwork sort of way. Its hippie years were long behind it but I loved it dearly.

At some point the “bug’s” starter went bad, so turning the key no longer started the engine. Being 17, all my extra cash and spare time was earmarked for far more import things so I adapted and made do because I still had places I needed to go and things I needed to do.

My workaround isn’t used much these day because it requires a manual transmission. It’s called bump starting and it’s actually fairly simple. Get the car rolling at a reasonable clip, usually by taking advantage of a reasonably steep hill or a bunch of burly friends, and pop the clutch while in first gear. There will be a bit of a jolt (a bump if you will), the engine will turn over and catch just as if you had a functioning starter.

I was pretty pleased with this workaround. It was cheap, it didn’t involve wasting a lot of time getting the car into the shop, and it was kind of fun. I just needed to make sure I parked on a hill or near a bunch of people willing to give me a push. Bump starting worked very well until it didn’t.

It stopped working for me on a rainy day out in the middle of nowhere. I was stuck at the bottom of a short, steep hill because I hadn’t been able pop the clutch with just the right timing. I was already late for my shift at work and miles from a pay phone. Long story short, I had a long, wet walk, I almost lost the job and I needed to ask the parents for a ride (just what every 17-year-old with his own car loves to do).

Using the bump start workaround was great for getting me through the period immediately after the starter failed. My big mistake was letting it become a long-term strategy.

I have seen this same sort of thinking cause serious problems with a number of presentations. For example, when your calendar is packed solid, it’s tempting to wait until you’re on the plane to work on the presentation. This works for you once, then again, and then it becomes standard operating procedure until it causes the inevitable disaster.

The same principle applies when you are actually working on slides. For instance, how many times have you quickly applied an underline to a less than sign to make it into a less than or equal to sign instead of taking the time to insert the correct character? Works great until the slide is moved to another presentation or the master gets reapplied and all that underlining goes away (a disappearance that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late).

The bottom line is that short-term workarounds can get you through a pinch but just make sure that you don’t let them become the long-term way of doing things. Find real solutions that don’t leave you at the bottom of the hill, in the rain about to lose your job.


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